May 06, 2014
Two weeks after the Associated Press reported that the “old political party founded under the Duvalier dictatorship says it plans to enter candidates in Haitian elections,” President Martelly issued an executive decree naming one of Duvalier’s lawyers, Frizto Canton, as a member on the body overseeing said elections.
The holding of local and legislative elections, now more than two years overdue, continues to cause controversy and political gridlock in Haiti and consternation for the international community.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of MINUSTAH, Sandra Honore recently warned in a press release, co-signed by the so-called “Friends of Haiti” group of countries, “that certain important decisions to advance toward the holding of the elections have yet to be made” and that the “inability to hold elections in 2014 could lead to the dissolution of Parliament in January 2015 which would engender yet another political crisis, with unpredictable consequences for the future of Haitian democracy.” This followed visits by members of the U.S. Congress, U.S. State Department representatives and the Club de Madrid, ostensibly to push elections forward.
The gridlock between the senate and the president stems from the composition of Haiti’s electoral body, tasked with organizing and overseeing the electoral process. The international community and President Martelly have continually referred to the “El Rancho Accord,” which was the result of negotiations brokered by the Catholic Church, as outlining the composition of the electoral council. However, the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras recently stated, as reported by Haiti Liberté, that, “the El Rancho Accord has no binding force and cannot override either the Constitution or the Electoral Law.” Desras added that a “trusted electoral council of consensus would not take one week to set up.”
Martelly, apparently frustrated by the Senate’s position, decided to move unilaterally today. The AP reports:
Haitian President Michel Martelly announced Tuesday he has appointed a new council to oversee legislative and local elections that are two years overdue, an important step to organizing a vote whose tardiness has frustrated many.
In a posting on his Facebook page and in a separate email, the leader said that the newest member of the council is Frizto Canton, a high-profile attorney who is defending former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier against human rights abuse and embezzlement charges.
Although the international community and U.S. State Department have largely blamed the electoral delays on the Haitian parliament rather than on Martelly, the press release from the “Friends of Haiti” also urged “all actors involved to make the concessions required to create a climate of mutual trust and serenity to facilitate the work of an Electoral Council which can provide the necessary guarantees for transparent and inclusive elections.”
It’s hard to believe the appointment of Canton will help “create a climate of mutual trust” between all parties, especially given the prominent role many officials during the Duvalier era have been given in the current administration. Martelly announced he would address the nation at 8 PM tonight, with elections expected to be the topic.
[Editor’s Note: The original post cited the AP in refering to Canton as the new head of the electoral council. While Canton took the place of the the previous head, it is unclear who will now occupy the top spot. The AP article has since been corrected.]