Democracy Discouraged : International Observers and Haiti’s 2015 Elections

The Gordian Knot of a Never-Ending Crisis

The Haitian electoral crisis of 2015-2016, the focus of this excellent report, sheds light on a situation of grave importance that, I hope, may also become irreversible. Namely, an abandonment of the idea that Haiti’s salvation can only come from overseas. Finally, the Haitian government is making the elections a matter of sovereign concern.
A quick glance at the past three decades in Haiti reveals the overwhelming failures of attempts to stabilize or “normalize” the country through foreign support. No less than $30 billion has been spent on resolving this recurrent crisis. What a complete and utter waste.
The political transition from dictatorship to democracy has not only been the longest and most chaotic for Haiti, it has also not yet managed to set the ground rules in its struggle for power. Changes to Latin American political systems, as well as in those of Spain, Portugal and Greece, have enabled power to be transferred to the people, rendering dictatorships and repressive democracies a thing of the past.
Upheld by foreign influence, Haiti, by contrast, is yet to experience such a transition. Traditionally, the losers of elections have contested the legitimacy of the votes while the winners have abused their power and attempted to subjugate the opposition. The notion of ‘crisis’ has an unusual dimension here because the mechanisms deployed to resolve conflicts have included resorting to authoritarianism and the use of force.
An acceptance of difference and the coexistence of opposing points of view are not conceivable within the Haitian political sphere. In accordance with this logic, only the use of power can, provisionally, directly tackle the core of a crisis. But from the moment when the exercise of power takes precedence over the reconciliation
of interests, the system falls victim to permanent political instability. This is a political system perpetually in pursuit of crisis situations, which then become part of the political modus vivendi, thus establishing a foundational norm.
Central to this story lies a history of foreign interventions (unilateral, multilateral, legal or not), mostly implemented through force. The nature and recurrence of these interventions have transformed foreigners into the principal actors of internal crises.
When foreign interference is as strong as it is in the case of MINUSTAH and the so-called Group of Friends†, this means that the much-maligned Haitian political system has succeeded in positioning its foundational norm and cardinal principles within a global system of crisis management.
The Haitian state only contributes twenty-five percent to the electoral budget. The remaining three-quarters in funding comes from abroad. This situation allows the International Syndicate an important say over electoral disputes. Big countries and international financial institutions form part of a group that subsequently accompanies, advises, recommends, pressures, makes subtle or explicit threats and, finally, has the power to change the overall outcome.
This International Syndicate also takes part in the vote through an electoral observation intermediary. During the 2010 elections, the role of the OAS and CARICOM Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) went well beyond what was initially agreed. Indeed, the results the CEP published of the first round were modified by the EOM, excluding presidential candidate Jude Célestin to the benefit of Michel Martelly. Haitian electoral authorities were therefore not only replaced diktat through external meddling, but the very will of the voters was ignored.
Despite external financial and technical assistance since the 1990s that totaled approximately $3 billion, the Haitian electoral system continues to be marred by institutional fragility and endlessly contested election results.
Since 1993, Haiti has been the recipient of no fewer than seven United Nations peacekeeping operations. Differences aside, all the missions were carried out under the auspices of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. On August 2 1994 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 940 which allowed for the creation of a multinational military contingent to intervene in Haiti. It was the first time in its history that the United Nations used Chapter VII of its charter to deal with a constitutional and thus strictly domestic matter. From the moment the UNSC decided that Haitian internal political crises presented a threat to peace and international security, it too became hostage to the type of politics practiced in the country.
These electoral challenges ought to be at the heart of the International Syndicate’s strategy in Haiti. Although there are other issues, the electoral problem remains central to resolving these. In the absence of an acceptable modus vivendi for all, and clear rules for the actors involved, the situation will be insurmountable. As long as the International Syndicate refuses to acknowledge this reality and is happy to accept non-Haitian solutions, the crisis will not disappear. It may benefit from a period of calm but will never fully end. Fortunately, this report provides a glimmer of hope because it calls for a need to focus on the Haitian political sphere, something which should have never, ever escaped the Haitian state in the first place.

Télécharger Democracy Discouraged : International Observers and Haiti’s 2015 ElectionsPDF - 815 ko

Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.


EU observers at a polling place on election day. Photo: EU EOM 2015