Let’s get Haiti’s vote right this time

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Francois Benoit, president of the verification commission, presented its report to the government on Monday.
Francois Benoit, president of the verification commission, presented its report to the government on Monday. AP

The handwriting was on the wall even before Haiti’s Independent Commission of Evaluation and Verification formalized its finding on Monday: The round of elections for president in October was so rife with fraud that a new vote is required.

The conclusion was inevitable. It concurs with the findings of many election observers and what has become the prevailing consensus in Haiti. Haitians were so skeptical of the outcome that gave first place to Jovenel Moïse and second to Jude Célestin that few would have had trust in any resulting government.

Even Mr. Célestin refused to take part in the January runoff, postponed at the last minute and leading to the creation of the inherently unstable interim government that rules Haiti today. Accepting the outcome of the October election would have been a prescription for even greater political dysfunction.

The commission’s 105-page report is persuasive, but it raises more questions than it answers.

Elections under what rules? Are all 50-plus candidates who were eligible to run the first time eligible again — implying another series of runoffs that prolong the installation of an elected government? If not, who gets to stay on the ballot? Will a new vote require re-registering potential voters? What authority does the interim government have to call for elections that extend well beyond its 120-day mandate?

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And who’s going to pay for it?

The United States gave $33 million for last year’s legislative and presidential vote, which had a price tag of $80 million. Who can assure a tightfisted U.S. Congress that this time the money won’t be spent for naught?

The report now rests with the Provisional Electoral Council, which has the final say on electoral matters and wants to wait until June 6 to examine it and announce a new election calendar. That is not an unreasonable delay, given all that’s riding on its decision.

What is not reasonable is to go back to Square One, to start over again with new registration and a full slate of wannabe presidents. Most of them barely won a fistful of votes the first time around and have no hope of doing better. To start again is too expensive, too time-consuming — a dangerous waste of time and resources amid a political crisis.

Here’s a suggestion to avoid that: Set a reasonable bar for the number of votes won in the first round to decide who can run again and to eliminate candidates who have no following. Make the bar low enough to avoid eliminating anyone with some semblance of support.

Requiring candidates who obtained, say, 3 percent of the vote in October would ensure that all candidates with at least an outside chance of success could take part in the new election. That would include both Messrs. Moïse and Célestin and a candidate from the recognized Fanmi Lavalas party, as well as two others.

And by all means, get rid of any provision that opens the door to double voting, which is what led to this mess in the first place.

Meanwhile, the government must be alert for efforts to create chaos. The findings of the verification commission are unlikely to sit well with ex-president Michel Martelly and his followers, who sought to ensure a victory for Mr. Moïse at all costs. Expect an increase in violent street protests from that side.

The best way to get ahead of the problem is for Haitian authorities to accept the findings of the commission and set clear and fair rules to hold a new election this year. Time is not on their side. They should act quickly.

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