Postpone election; Haiti is not ready

An electoral worker holds up a presidential ballot during October elections in Port-au-Prince. A runoff is scheduled for Sunday.
An electoral worker holds up a presidential ballot during October elections in Port-au-Prince. A runoff is scheduled for Sunday. AP

It has become painfully clear this week that ignoring calls to postpone Sunday’s presidential elections in Haiti will incite street violence. It is also apparent, regrettably, that going ahead with elections now will fail to produce a government that Haitians deem credible and legitimate.

Presidential candidates who took part in the first round of the presidential election last fall oppose the timing of Sunday’s election — except for government-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse. That includes Jude Célestin, the runner-up for president who is on the ballot in the Sunday vote along with Mr. Moïse. Mr. Célestin and the opposition bloc known as the G8 are boycotting the vote.

That alone puts its legitimacy in doubt, but others have joined in the call, including some observer missions and groups like the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti. And on Wednesday, members of the incomplete Haitian Senate voted 15-0, with five abstentions, in favor of setting aside the elections for a few weeks until troubling questions about the fairness of the upcoming vote can be resolved.

Their voices should be heeded.

When last we addressed the topic of Haiti’s elections, we expressed the hope that a clean election could produce a legitimate new government in time to inaugurate a new president by Feb. 7, when President Michel Martelly’s term expires. But we noted that this would “require a good-faith effort by all sides to come up with a plan for an honest election.”

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. We do not favor prolonging the tenure of Mr. Martelly, whose failure to hold elections for years is what led to this problem in the first place. The sooner he is gone, the better.

Nor is any transition government likely to enjoy popular support. But a brief transition period — with a clear timetable for a turnover of power within a few weeks to an elected government is far more likely to produce a stable, democratic government, providing the vote is seen as fair and transparent.

The heart of the matter involves the earlier round of voting. After too many questions arose about the first round, Mr. Martelly, under pressure, unilaterally named a verification commission. Its report acknowledged significant problems with the electoral machinery and called for a number of steps to be taken before the final round. Among them: an investigation to determine the extent of wrongdoing in the first round; fixing the voting process; and a national dialogue of all parties.

None of this has taken place.

We are keenly aware that there are good reasons to proceed with the elections as scheduled. Kenneth Merten, the U.S. government’s special coordinator for Haiti, told The Guardian newspaper that “proceeding with the electoral calendar as provided by the Haitian constitution will avoid going into an extra-constitutional, de-facto government leadership crisis.”

Unfortunately, the crisis has already developed. Many believe elections are being held on Sunday only because of demands by the U.S. government and allies in the international community to stay the course.

Instead of insisting on this timetable, Haiti’s foreign partners should use their influence to help create a smooth transition and establish conditions for a fair and transparent election. Haiti is not ready today. A brief postponement and an orderly transition may yet produce a government that Haitians can believe in and support for years to come.