Another chance to move Haiti forward

Haiti’s President Michel Martelly speaks during a memorial service this year for victims of the January 2010 earthquake.
Haiti’s President Michel Martelly speaks during a memorial service this year for victims of the January 2010 earthquake. AP

On the surface, Haiti’s presidential elections seem to be a robust competition. Fifty-four candidates are vying for the votes of 5.8 million registered voters, and they’re all debating their competing visions across the island — and even here in South Florida.

One of their debates takes place Sunday in North Miami, an acknowledgment of the importance of the local Haitian community and that the residents care deeply for their homeland.

This election is another chance to turn the page politically, to move the country forward. But one doesn’t have to look far to sense the uncertainty hovering over the Oct. 25 presidential vote, which is also the second round for the violence- and fraud-marred Aug. 9 elections. By many accounts, the vote may be headed for another disastrous train wreck.

This time, the result could be worse than the last presidential election that led to accusations that the international community put President Michel Martelly in power in 2010 over the wishes of the Haitian people. The unending crisis ever since has produced four years of political gridlock that culminated in January with one-man rule by Mr. Martelly.

Given this history of crisis and political dysfunction, it’s hard to be optimistic about the upcoming election. The international community, insisting that these are Haitian-led elections, is standing on the sidelines watching but quietly exerting pressure against an expensive negation of the $38-million Aug. 9 vote.

The community’s silent diplomacy has allowed the Provisional Electoral Council to illegally remove a presidential candidate, university provost Jacky Lumarque, and to declare 10 legislative races over, despite announcing to voters that election-day violence had disrupted balloting around the country and the vote needed to be re-run in 25 constituencies. This led Mr. Lumarque’s Vérité (Truth) Party to announce that it was boycotting the October balloting.

By declaring winners, especially in the Artibonite Department where police made dozens of arrests and seized firearms, election officials are violating a cardinal rule: Every vote counts.

So, heading into the final weeks of the campaign, it would be helpful if the presidential candidates debating Sunday could pledge to take certain steps to improve Haiti’s chances of political success. They include:

▪ To respect the vote regardless of which individuals and which parties come out ahead.

▪ To refuse to abide by any outcome achieved as a result of violence at the polls. The international community can help by seeking the appointment of a special coordinator for elections security from the Haitian National Police to work directly with United Nations forces on the island.

▪ To govern in a nonpartisan manner, reaching out to political friend and foe alike. This means discarding the winner-take-all mentality that characterizes Haitian politics. Mr. Martelly’s hyper-partisanship has been a setback for the country’s political development.

▪ To institute effective anti-corruption reforms in the government. We know this is a tall order — political corruption is a way of life in Haiti — but someone at least has to make a start.

▪ To focus on earthquake recovery. It’s been proceeding in fits and starts from the beginning, and until it’s completed the people of Haiti will not be able to move forward.

A recent World Bank report noted sadly that Haiti lacks a social contract, the spirit of unity that holds a nation together. It’s too much to expect Haiti to develop such a spirit overnight, but it gives candidates a goal for which to aim after the lost years of Mr. Martelly’s failed presidency.