Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council — CEP —wisely decided on Monday to postpone Sunday’s presidential runoff election, as well as parliamentary runoffs and voting for local offices. Given the violence and accusations of fraud swirling around earlier rounds of balloting, the runoff was discredited even before votes were cast.
The delay does not by itself offer a resolution of Haiti’s electoral crisis, however. What needs to happen is an honest, credible effort to investigate what went wrong earlier — and fix it.
President Michel Martelly and the CEP have a responsibility to ensure a clean election that can lead to a legitimate new government when his own term expires on Feb. 7.
That’s a tall order given the short timetable and the deep well of skepticism in Haiti, which Mr. Martelly helped to create by his high-handed manner of governing.
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The president has been ruling by decree since January after he and political opponents failed to agree on election rules to replace some members of the Senate and the entire lower chamber of the legislative branch.
Granted, the opposition has also been stubborn, but as president Mr. Martelly has an obligation to seek compromise and consensus rather than go it alone, as is his preferred style. He did it again last week when he arbitrarily announced the creation of a five-member commission to review the now-postponed Dec. 27 elections without consulting opposing contenders. The panel’s purpose was to recommend ways to hold a credible election, but by then it was too late, as the CEP belatedly recognized.
The clock is ticking until Mr. Martelly’s term expires. It is still possible to hold credible elections in time to swear in a new president and parliament before Feb. 7, but that will require a good-faith effort by all sides to come up with a plan for an honest election.
We urge the new commission to be bold. Its members have to bless the results of the earlier voting (or not), but this is not just about numbers. It’s about the crisis of confidence in Haiti. They should offer a plan to restructure the CEP, which is tainted by a credibility problem for its mishandling of the electoral process thus far.
The Council’s dysfunction has led the Haitian people to question whether any election held under its auspices can be fair and honest. A significant change in its makeup could go a long way toward dispelling public skepticism about the next round of voting.
The new commission should also investigate charges that election judges received bribes from candidates seeking a place on the ballot.
The leading presidential candidates, too, have an obligation to help find a way out of Haiti’s electoral mess, instead of aiming for a transitional government that would lack a popular mandate. Jovenel Moïse, Mr. Martelly’s candidate for president and the leading vote-getter in the earlier round, must come to an agreement with the second-place finisher, Jude Célestin, along with the opposition bloc known as the G8, that reassures the public that every vote will count.
The delay in elections offers an opportunity for all the candidates to display the kind of leadership that can inspire confidence in Haiti’s political system. Nothing that has preceded the elections thus far has managed to do so. This is not merely about another election. It’s about Haiti’s future and whether it is possible for the country to establish a working democracy.