Thursday, February 3, 2011


It seems a rather large topic to cover in one posting, so I'm not going to. My understanding of Hatian Politics is only a small scratch in the dirt of a much deeper quarry of history. Having said that, the situation here is in flux, so I can give a somewhat accurate account of the events of late. 'Somewhat accurate' is a running theme throughout Haitian politics apparently.

To summarise the background to the election, on November 28th, 2010, the Haitian people went to the polls, after a delay of 7 months, to elect a new president, ten departmental senators, and ninety-nine local deputies. The incumbent President, Rene Preval, was due to leave office by February 7th, 2011, and despite the January 12th Earthquake, and an outbreak of cholera, pressure to hold the election prevailed.

Of the 19 candidates on the ballot paper, a notable exception was a candidate from the Fanmi Lavalas party, lead by Jean-Bertrand Arisitide, the former president of Haiti, who had been in exile in South Africa since his ousting from power in a 2004 rebellion. Fanmi Lavalas had decided on a candidate, and the party leader, Arisitide, had signed the endorsement via fax. However, in the period of time leading up to the election, the electoral council (CEP) changed the requirements such that the endorsement should be signed in person - a feat impossible for Arisitide and his party.

Another potential candidate of note was musician Wyclef Jean. Jean had departed from Haiti when he was 9 years old for New York, and according to many, is fluent in neither Creole or French, the two official languages of Haiti. Jean was deemed ineligible to stand for election as he did not meet the requirements regarding residency within Haiti in the past 5 years.

Opinion polls prior to the election varied wildly. However, Mirlande Manigat, from the Rally of Progressive National Democrats, featured prominently. Manigat, a former First Lady, had long been a leader of the opposition, and was running her campaign with a large emphasis on combating corruption. Rene Preval's Party, Inite, was backing Jude Celestin, who had previously taken charge of Haiti's road-building efforts (see previous post).

Okay, before this turns into the Wikipedia page for the election, I'll cut to the chase with regards to events. Provisional election results released in early December placed Manigat in first place with 31.37%, incumbent-backed Celestin in second with 22.48 %, and pop singer Michel 'Sweet Mickey' Martelly in third with 21.84%. The voting system requires a candidate to obtain more than 50 % of the vote, so the top two candidates go to a run-off election. Obviously, there was uproar at the difference of 0.64% between second and third place, and claims that ballot boxes had been stuffed in Celestin's favour.

On December 10th, it was announced there would be a recount.

Debate went on throughout December concerning the elections. Most candidates who did not feature in the top three called to scrap the election, and argued that the international community was pressuring the CEP to push the election through, even though it was obviously not without some element of tampering. One of the counter-arguments to this was the cost of another election: $29 million, which Haiti cannot afford.

January was quite an interesting month in Haiti. On the 17th, former 'president-for-life', Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier returned to Haiti, to a mixed reaction. He was subsequently arrested for fraud during his term in office. It was announced that the revised election results would be released towards the end of the month. Rene Preval's party, Inite, announced that it was withdrawing it's support for Jude Celestin. This led most to the conclusion that the two candidates that would be named to contest the run-off election would be Manigat and Martelly. Most were right, and after the customary delay, the election results were announced on the morning of February 3rd, with Manigat and Martelly contesting the run off to be held on March 20th.

Amid the ongoing delays, the general public, up here in rural Gros Morne, have grown tired of the election. It's old news. People, like in Ireland, are beginning to recall back to 'The Good Old Days'. Only in Haiti's 'Good Old Days', the country was run by Papa Doc, a self appointed dictator, who ruled by fear.

For the candidates contesting the election, the issues to be raised seemed fairly obvious: rebuild the country after the earthquake, educate the young, etc. For the most, candidates did not vary significantly. However, an issue which does not appear to have been addressed head-on is security. A view that I have heard numerous times from Haitians, is that at least under Duvalier, one could walk in the streets at night. There was no fear, except fear of the regime. But if you complied with the regime, happy days. People had houses to live in, food to eat, and jobs. Approval of Duvalier's methods may seem dramatic, but for most people, it makes sense. They are not political ideologists. They just want 3 meals, a roof and a pair of shoes for their child.

Another element which has arisen in recent days is the potential return of Jean Bertrand Aristide. There is a level of desire for his return: only today there were Pro-Aristide supporters burning tyres in Port-au-Prince, calling for the return of 'their president-in-exile'. However, whether his return, if it happens, has any effect on the future of the country remains to be seen.

With regards to the elections however, all is quiet, for the time being. The two candidates do differ in the way they are being sold to the Haitian people. Manigat comes across as a calm older woman, seeking to restore order after turmoil. She is not a radical feminist, and has not raised any massively contentious issues. She is a mother, looking to nurse her injured child back to health. Martelly, however, is one of the strangest politicians I've come across. Bonkers, to be honest. Search for his music videos on youtube. Catchy, eh? Now search for his campaign images. It honestly looks like somebody photoshopped a bald head onto a photograph of Obama. Haiti is still going through Obamamania, so this is no wonder. I've passed at least two 'Hotel Obamas' since arriving here. Martelly, who as the nuns here put it 'is famous for showing his briefs in public' has an obvious draw to a country with a very young population, but his qualifications for running a country are about as hard to find as a hotel named after George Bush.

The lead up to the run-off elections should be interesting, and hopefully, peaceful.

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