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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Haiti’s National Elections: Issues and Concerns

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

In proximity to the United States, and with such a chronically unstable political environment and fragile economy, Haiti has been a constant policy issue for the United States. Congress views the stability of the nation with great concern and commitment to improving conditions there. Both Congress and the international community have invested significant resources in the political, economic, and social development of Haiti, and will be closely monitoring the conduct of the elections as a prelude to the next steps in Haiti’s development.

For the past 25 years, Haiti has been making the transition from a legacy of authoritarian rule to a democratic government. Elections are a part of that process. In the short term, elections have usually been a source of increased political tensions and instability in Haiti. In the long term, elected governments in Haiti have contributed to the gradual strengthening of government capacity and transparency.

Haiti is currently approaching the end of its latest election cycle. Like many of the previous elections, the current process has been riddled with political tensions, allegations of irregularities, and violence. The first round of voting for president and the legislature was held on Sunday, November 28, 2010. That vote was marred by opposition charges of fraud, reports of irregularities, and low voter turnout. When the electoral council announced that out-going President Rene Préval’s little-known protégé, and governing party candidate, Jude Celestin, had edged out a popular musician for a spot in the runoff elections by less than one percent, three days of violent protests ensued. Tensions rose as people waited to see which candidates would proceed to the second round, whether Préval would continue in office beyond the constitutional expiration of his term, or if some sort of provisional government would have to be established.

The Haitian government asked the Organization of American States (OAS) for help and delayed releasing final results, which were due out December 20, 2010, to give the OAS team of international elections experts enough time to investigate and verify the process. The team began its work on January 1, 2011, and gave President Préval a report with its recommendations on January 13. The Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) released the final results of the first round of voting on February 3, sending Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional lawyer and university administrator, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a popular singer, to the run-off race. The governing party’s candidate was eliminated from the race by a narrow margin. After months of dispute, the second round of elections is now scheduled to take place on March 20, 2011.

The United States is providing $14 million in election support through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

This report provides an overview of the controversies surrounding the first round of voting in late 2010, and concerns related to the second and final round of the elections. In addition to ongoing issues regarding the legitimacy of the upcoming March 20 elections, other questions have raised concerns within the international community and Congress. These include the destabilizing presence of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the possible return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the newly elected government’s ability to handle the complex post-earthquake reconstruction process and its relationship with the donor community.

Date of Report: March 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41689
Price: $29.95

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