A Look at the New Provisional Electoral Council

February 06, 2015

Haiti’s current Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), formed in late January, is the fourth incarnation of an electoral council since Martelly’s ascension to the presidency in 2011. With elections delayed over three years, parliament ceasing to function and the country run by a de facto government, the current CEP will have a large role in leading the country to elections and a restoration of constitutional rule. “Fair elections will require an impartial, independent and constitutional CEP to facilitate the free participation of all political parties,” wrote the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) last month.

While the formation of previous electoral councils did not follow Article 289 of the Haitian constitution (Martelly originally wanted to form a permanent electoral council that is subject to different provisions, for background on this, see here), the current one hews more closely to what is outlined there. Nine representatives from various sectors of civil society nominated representatives to the CEP, which were then ratified by the President. However, as IJDH points out, the process “deviated from the relevant constitutional provisions in several respects, including the participation of new civil society groups, and prohibiting the participation of government agents and political parties.” Further, the political accord outlining this new process never received parliamentary approval. Another aspect that differs from what is outlined in Article 289 is that Martelly requested each of the nine sectors to submit two names for the CEP. The executive branch would then be able to choose one of them for the post. While not called for in the constitution, this is a similar process as was used to form the previous CEP under Preval, which oversaw the flawed 2010 elections.

The electoral council is tasked with drafting the electoral law, which will govern the upcoming and as yet unscheduled elections. One of the key questions the CEP must address is whether one or two elections will be held in 2015. President Martelly has called for a first election in May, to elect a new legislature, followed by presidential elections toward the end of the year.  In a meeting Wednesday with some of the remaining 10 senators in Haiti’s parliament, U.S. Ambassador White reportedly stated her belief that partial elections could be held as early as July. There is also the question of inclusiveness; during the last election, political parties were arbitrarily excluded from the balloting and previous electoral councils under Martelly had been criticized for also blocking full participation in elections.

The international community will also play a key role in the functioning of the CEP, as foreign donors will be paying nearly the entire cost of elections. After a visit from the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power briefed the Security Council, stating, “The provisional council is charged with developing a framework for the elections crucial to Haiti’s stability. We were impressed with the electoral council’s seriousness of purpose and commitment to independence, and we offered its members our full support.”

For the first time since the CEP’s formation two weeks ago, some news on its work emerged today from an exclusive interview from an anonymous member of the CEP with Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. A press conference next Tuesday, February 10, is also expected, according to Le Nouvelliste (UPDATE: the CEP issued a press release today announcing a press conference for February 10. The release states that they will outline the electoral calendar among other announcements). The member told the paper that a draft electoral law was nearly complete and would soon be sent to Martelly for publication in Le Moniteur, the official gazette laws are published. Normally an electoral law would have to be passed by parliament, thus calling into question its legal viability. Since at least early November, the U.S. government has considered the expiration of parliamentarians’ terms to be a foregone conclusion; however they have consistently stated their belief that Martelly would only use his executive powers to hold an election and not to push through other, unpopular measures.

The anonymous council member told Le Nouvelliste that it was as yet undecided if the electoral law would provide for two elections this year or just one. Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) released a statement earlier this week acknowledging the key role of the CEP in leading the country out of the current crisis, but warning that it should not simply move the crisis from pre-election to post-election. “The current political situation can never justify the implementation of rushed elections whose results will not necessarily resolve the pre-electoral crisis plaguing the country,” RNDDH said. An election for election’s sake will not solve the problem.

Further, some 20 human rights organizations issued a statement last week declaring that the current government is unconstitutional, but also that elections must be held as soon as possible. The organizations added, “But much is left to be done. Because the elections must be free and without violence, honest and without fraudulence, democratic and without harmful influences, and above all they must be independent and free of foreign meddling during the results.” Some sectors of civil society have also raised concerns with their representatives to the council. Vodou and peasant groups were tasked with naming one representative, but the Vodou groups have stated they do not agree with the council member chosen in the process. The Council of the State University of Haiti, one of two education groups tasked with naming a representative, and Haitian Women’s Solidarity, one of two women’s groups responsible, have also expressed their disagreement with their respective choices. Nevertheless, opposition political parties have expressed measured optimism that the new CEP will allow for credible elections. 

A previous version of the CEP had given political parties one week to register for elections, in June of 2014, however many parties did not register as they did not recognize the institution’s legitimacy. Though many hope the new CEP will provide for an inclusive election, Le Nouvelliste reports, “Our source was not able to say whether the new CEP would consider the 100 political parties that already registered under Emmanuel Ménard and Fritzo Canton, the two former presidents of the CEP, or whether the registrations would be open to all political organizations.” Any electoral law that does not reopen party registration is sure to be seen as illegitimate.

An interesting development with the current CEP is that the president, Pierre Louis Opont, served as Director General of the CEP during the 2010 election. In her insider account of the election and the intervention of the international community, Ginette Cherubin, a member of that CEP, had a generally favorable view of Opont. As opposed to much of the CEP, which she saw as beholden to President Preval, Opont appeared more independent. Cherubin recounts a conversation between Opont and then-head of MINUSTAH, Edmond Mulet, on the day of the election. According to Cherubin, Mulet told Opont that the international community would not accept Jude Célestin moving to the second round of the election, while Opont countered that the CEP had not received all the votes yet, and refused to comply with Mulet’s orders. Eventually Martelly would replace Célestin in the second round after a mission from the Organization of American States visited the country. (for more on this aspect of the 2010 election, see here).

However, some questions have been raised about Opont’s independence in the current CEP. Opont was nominated by the business sector, which was coordinated by the Private Sector Economic Forum. Sitting on the board of directors at the business grouping is Reginald Boulos. Boulos was also the coordinator for the Presidential Advisory Commission which recommended the resignation of Prime Minister Lamothe and the formation of a new CEP in December 2014. Boulos has remained a close advisor to President Martelly since.  Another member of that advisory commission, Evans Paul, is the current Prime Minister. According to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, Opont previously was “Finance Director for the Centers for Health Development (a private network of health clinics run by the Boulos family), and was Finance and Administrative Director for the Canape Vert Hospital, also in the private sector.” Interestingly, the two nominations from the private sector were Opont, and Leopold Berlanger, who was parliament’s representative to a previous CEP and has been critical of Martelly in the past. It is therefore no surprise that Martelly would choose Opont over Berlanger.

Two weeks after its formation, there remain more questions than answers about the current CEP and its ability to lead free, fair and inclusive elections. Today, a round table discussion took place at Quisqeya University with featured speakers (the previously mentioned) Ginette Cherubin; Ricardo Seitenfus, the OAS representative in Haiti who blew the whistle on electoral interference in 2010; and current CEP President Opont. According to journalist Amelie Baron, while discussing electoral problems in Haiti, Opont stated, “The Provisional Electoral Council is judge and jury.”

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