Accord or Discord? Political agreement eases tensions, but crisis persists

February 16, 2016

The following has been cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog. The agreement itself can be found at the original source. 

Update: Jocelerme Privert has been elected provisional president by the National Assembly.

President Michel Martelly managed to reach a political accord with the heads of Haiti’s parliament on the creation of a transitional government, averting a potentially dangerous political vacuum. In keeping with the deal, Martelly stepped down on February 7, meeting a major demand of his opponents. But the accord also gives a great deal of power to a contested Parliament and fixes a time frame for the transition that would appear to rule out any real investigation of fraud in the previous rounds of elections. With pro-Martelly members of Haiti’s disbanded military (FAdH) on the march, the spectre of another, more violent round of political unrest hangs over the agreement. Given the accord’s many ambiguities and contradictions, Haiti’s electoral crisis has yet to be solved.

The deal’s text, entitled “Political Accord for institutional continuity upon the end of the term of office of the President of the Republic and in the absence of a President-elect and for the continuation of the 2015 electoral process,” was finalized at 1am on Friday night, after 28 meetings between various actors. President Martelly, Senate President Jocelerme Privert and Chamber of Deputies President Chancy Cholzer signed at the National Palace on Saturday, February 6. The solution found by the Executive and the lawmakers was “inspired by constitutional dispositions” rather than directly derived from the Haitian Constitution, because the Constitution did not clearly indicate what was supposed to happen when a president’s term ended without an elected successor in place.

The political accord confirmed Martelly’s departure on the constitutionally mandated end of his term on February 7 and provided a roadmap for the establishment of a provisional government. A provisional president will be elected by the National Assembly (a joint body of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) within five days of the signing of the accord, while executive power will be exercised in the interim by current Prime Minister Evans Paul and the Council of Ministers. Parliament has already established a bicameral committee to receive and vet applications for the post, and if all goes well, a provisional president will be sworn in on February 14. The mandate of the provisional president is limited to a maximum of 120 days, starting from the day they assume office.

The provisional president is tasked with “redynamizing” the currently “dysfunctional” CEP and finding a “consensus” Prime Minister. To do so, the political accord gives the provisional president the responsibility to establish a broad consultation process with Haitian society and the two Chambers of parliament mandate is find a consensus Prime Minister, who will then form a government and be confirmed by Parliament. Although not stated in the accord’s text, the New York Times reported that Martelly had made “an important concession” during the negotiations, agreeing to allow a member of an opposition party to be selected as interim president.

The provisional president is also called on to convoke the various social sectors to delegate new representatives (or confirm existing ones) to the CEP. At present, the CEP has only three of nine members, meaning it lacks the necessary two-third quorum for publishing electoral results. Just as important, the credibility of the current CEP has been badly eroded by corruption scandals and its complicity in Martelly’s efforts to ram through fraudulent elections despite strong opposition.

Once in place, the “redynamized” CEP will ensure the “continuation of the electoral process initiated during 2015,” according the agreement. The steps to be taken include the implementation of the “technical recommendations” of the Evaluation Commission and the finalization of municipal election results, followed by the organization of “second round of presidential elections, partial legislative elections, and local elections.” The accord fixes April 24 as the date for these elections, with final results proclaimed on May 6 and an elected president installed on May 14. Many commentators, including Senate President Privert, have pointed out that this calendar is only tentative, since only the CEP has the authority to officially set election dates.

Although the political accord’s signatories claimed to be “seeking a broad consensus of all vital forces of the nation,” support for the agreement was not unanimous. Almost immediately after it was signed, the deal was denounced in the streets by opposition protesters. The Group of Eight (G-8) characterized the agreement as “anti-popular and anti-democratic” and the Front du Refus et de la Résistance Patriotique, a grouping of political and civil society leaders, which called the deal “stillborn.” The G-30, another grouping of presidential candidates, announced that it will challenge the political accord’s legality. These critics charged that the deal did not taken into account a sufficiently wide range of perspectives. Senate President Jocelerme Privert admitted that some opposition lawmakers disagreed with the accord reached by Martelly and legislators, but Privert said they would have to accept the majority’s decision. “This is the democratic way,” he said. Some pro-Martelly legislators have also expressed discontent with the deal.

The accord confers upon Parliament a major role in the process of establishing a transitional government. Many critics, however, have questioned this aspect of the accord, given the shaky democratic credentials of many in Parliament. Gotson Pierre, editor of Alterpresse, noted that the formation of a transitional government “seems risky for a contested and incomplete Parliament (116 parliamentarians of 149), enjoying a weak legitimacy.” Given the violence and fraud that accompanied the legislative elections, Pierre warned Parliament not to “seek to take advantage of the crisis and to impose its formula without any collaboration with the rest of society and the other [governmental] powers.”

In a statement drafted by Samuel Madistin on behalf of the G-8, the outsized role given to Parliament by the accord was denounced even more strenuously as a “parliamentary coup d’État” carried out by “improperly elected parliamentarians.” It was not clear whether Jude Célestin, whose support has been crucial for the G-8, backed Madistin’s statement. Representatives of Jude Célestin’s party, LAPEH, have stated on the radio that the G-8 statements regarding the accord were drafted without their input. “Parliament is part of the crisis and cannot, as a consequence, decide on the solution,” Madistin argued. The “supposed accord attempts to validate the 2015 elections as if they were normal, without taking into account popular opposition.” As such,the accord constituted “a provocation” to the popular masses, to whom the signatories had showed “an unacceptable disdain.” The G-8 continues to put forward its preferred solution of having the provisional president selected from the Cour de Cassation, though Madistin’s claim that a “general consensus” in favour of this option is hard to believe. Madistin, presidential candidate for MOPOD, has been the only signer of the G-8’s statements recently.

The concerns about the place of Parliament in the transition are not unrelated to the major demand of the protesters and the opposition parties: a full and independent investigation of electoral fraud. The G-8 and Fanmi Lavalas, as well as many political observers, continue to demand an independent investigative commission to examine both the August 9 and October 25 elections. The accord, however, is very ambiguous about how (or even whether) this demand will be addressed. On the one hand, the accord gives some reason for the opposition to hope, as it states that elections will only proceed “after an evaluation of the phases already completed.” On the other hand, many key elements – the language of “restarting” and “continuing” the electoral process, the emphasis on implementing the “technical recommendations” of the Evaluation Commission, and the very explicit indication that the next set of elections will be for second-round presidential and partial legislative elections – all suggest that scope of the evaluation might be quite limited.

In an interview given to journalist Jean-Michel Caroît shortly before the accord was finalized, Privert indicated that he considered a far-reaching investigation unlikely. Asked whether or not the presidential elections would go forward on the basis of the announced October 25 results, Privert told Caroît:

That is the whole debate: Do we redo the elections or continue the process initiated in 2015? The duration of the transition will depend on the choice we make. I cannot easily see how we could put into question everything that has been done.

Thus, the shorter the transition period, the less feasible a thorough-going evaluation of electoral fraud in previous rounds.

Along these lines, management consultant André Lafontant Jr. has argued that by establishing such a short transition period, the political accord “implies conducting no investigation prior to the holding of elections.” Lafontant dismissed the pretense that good and credible elections could be organized within 120 days, as specified by the accord and endorsed by the international community, as “fantastical” and “unrealistic.” Based on his experience as a staffer for CEP member Lourdes Edith Joseph, Lafontant estimated that at least nine months would be necessary “to correct the numerous anomalies that tarnished the days of August 9 and October 25, and to hold, this time, a free, fair and inclusive process.”

Lafontant despaired that Haiti’s political class was trapping itself by agreeing to the demands of the so-called “Friends of Haiti” (Core Group, OAS, EU, UNDP etc.): “Once again, the pressure of the international community is pushing us to make bad choices.” Indeed, since the signing of the accord, the Core Group and the UN have stressed that Haiti’s elections must be completed “swiftly” and “as quickly as possible.” Nor have international actors hid their view that, whatever fraud or irregularities may have occurred, these were not significant enough to merit an investigation.

The political accord has temporarily eased political tensions, but it may also effectively rule out the opposition’s most fundamental demand concerning a verification inquiry due to the extremely short timetable adopted. Prime Minister Evans Paul has urged all sides that dialogue is “the only weapon that we should use.” “We don’t need to mobilize people on the streets anymore, because all the demands expressed on streets are now on the table of state institutions.” To realize their demands in spite of the accord’s contradictions and limitations, opposition protesters may again take to the streets.

Perhaps most troubling is that the very real weapons of the ex-FAdH, and not just dialogue, are now weighing in the balance. “It’s all nice and jolly, but there are real problems,” political scientist Robert Fatton Jr. told the New York Times. Pro-government paramilitary groups that clashed with opposition protesters on February 5 could engage in violent resistance, Fatton warned, should a verification commission determine that different candidates should proceed to the runoff, or that the election results should be scrapped altogether. “The old military people that are out on the streets are sending a clear signal to opposition groups: ‘If you don’t accept this compromise, we are out here, with weapons,’ ” Mr. Fatton said. “No one knows who was in charge of these people. Everyone assumes they are in fact armed people and armed by the Michel Martelly regime, otherwise they would not be so free to go to the streets.” In sum, the political accord has cooled down the situation for now, but Haiti’s political scene remains dangerously polarized.

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