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Monday, August 1, 2011

Haiti’s National Elections: Issues, Concerns, and Outcome

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. The Obama Administration considers Haiti its top priority in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Both Congress and the international community have invested significant resources in the political, economic, and social development of Haiti, and have closely monitored the election process 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 has concluded its latest election cycle, although it is still finalizing the results of a few legislative seats. The United States provided $16 million in election support through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Like many of the previous Haitian elections, the recent process has been riddled with political tensions, violence, allegations of irregularities, and low voter turnout. The first round of voting for president and the legislature, held on November 28, 2010, was marred by opposition charges of fraud, especially in the presidential race. The Haitian government asked the Organization of American States (OAS) for help and delayed releasing final results, while the OAS team of international elections experts investigated and verified the process. On February 3, following the OAS team’s recommendations, the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) reversed their original finding by eliminating Jude Celestin, the governing party’s candidate, from the race by a narrow margin. Instead, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a popular singer, proceeded to the run-off race against Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional lawyer and university administrator.

After months of dispute, the second round of elections took place on March 20. The OAS electoral observation mission reported that the second round was more organized, transparent, and peaceful than the first. When final results were announced, controversy again erupted, this time over legislative races. The CEP’s final tallies changed the outcome in favor of the ruling Inite party for 19 legislative districts. Under pressure from the public and the OAS mission, the CEP eventually reverted to 15 of the 19 original results; four seats in the chamber of deputies are still to be decided. The outcome of the presidential race was not challenged, and Michel Martelly was sworn into office peacefully on May 14. Local elections are due to be held, but haven’t yet been scheduled.

President Martelly is having difficulty forming his administration. The legislature passed several constitutional amendments in a flurry of activity in its first three weeks. Since then it has focused on the selection of a prime minister. The majority Inite parliament blocked Martelly’s first choice, and over half of the Senate asked him to rescind his second candidate.

In addition to ongoing issues regarding the legitimacy of the 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 and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the newly elected government’s ability to handle the complex postearthquake reconstruction process and its relationship with the donor community.

Date of Report: July 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R41689Price: $29.95
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