Haiti’s internationally backed electoral process was thrown further into disarray yesterday as a leading political party announced its withdrawal from the electoral process. In a press statement, the Vérité platform, closely associated with former president René Préval, said it was pulling out of the elections because it was the primary victim of the August 9 “electoral mess,” and called for a “good” electoral council in order to “run a good election.”
Haiti’s August 9 election was characterized by extremely low voter turnout, with just 18 percent of registered voters going to the polls. Additionally, nearly one-quarter of all votes were never counted due to violence on election day, problems transporting ballots and other issues. In 25 of the 119 races for deputy, elections will need to be re-run due to the scale of irregularities. Over the last month, an increasingly large cadre of candidates has taken to the streets, leading protests against the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and a government who they claim has rigged the process.
Also yesterday, INITE, Préval’s former political movement, called on its representative, Ariel Henry to leave the “consensus” government that has run the country since the terms of parliament expired in January. To “remain part of a government that has undertaken and continues this electoral coup of August 9, would be contrary to our principles, our democratic ideals,” the party stated in its letter to President Martelly.
Preliminary results released last month showed Vérité candidates advancing to the second round in 30 of the 85 races that were counted and where no candidate won in the first round, second only to President Martelly’s PHTK. Vérité has mulled the decision to withdraw for some time, as the party’s presidential candidate, Jacky Lumarque, was excluded from participating after originally being accepted. The CEP, after announcing the final list of candidates, kicked Lumarque out of the race because he had been named to a presidential commission under former president Préval and therefore needed a discharge document. Despite a ruling from Haiti’s highest court in favor of Lumarque, the CEP has maintained the exclusion and Vérité has led regular protests for his reentry into the race.
While Vérité has consistently denounced flaws in the electoral process, it has been accused by opposition groups of being close to the governing party and being one of the main benefactors of the recent election. And it’s true; there may never have been an election without the support of Préval.
At least as early as November 2014, senior United States diplomats began to meet with the former president and others deemed to be in the more “moderate” opposition. At the time, with delayed elections still not scheduled and terms of sitting parliamentarians expiring in January, Haiti was engulfed by a growing protest movement calling for the departure of President Martelly and the holding of elections. There needed to be a compromise that would move Haiti toward elections and remove the instability from the streets; Préval, whom the U.S. described as “Haiti’s indispensable man” in a 2009 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, was the one to do it.
In a State Department cable ahead of a trip to Haiti by State Department counselor Tom Shannon – dated October 29, 2014 and released through a Freedom of Information Act request – U.S. Ambassador Pamela White wrote that Shannon’s “meetings with key players will be a chance to convey continued U.S. support for dialogue in order to achieve consensus and hold elections as soon as it is technically feasible.” White continues, “If consultations are to bear any fruit the moderate opposition and the Executive will need to urgently engage in dialogue with a defined and agreed upon agenda. We will continue to urge all parties to engage constructively between now and January.”
Martelly would eventually name a presidential advisory commission to recommend a way out of the crisis and toward elections. The commission’s report called for Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe’s resignation, the removal of a judicial official, the formation of a new electoral council, and a consensus government. On December 10, Ambassador White wrote that the actions “address many of the political opposition’s most pressing concerns.” The commission was led by industrialist Reginald Boulos and also included Evans Paul, since named Prime Minister.
A source with knowledge of the discussions said that it was Paul himself who suggested the advisory commission during a mid-November meeting with the so-called “moderate opposition,” which also included Ambassador White. A little over a month later, Martelly would nominate Evans Paul to be prime minister. Boulos, a leader in the Private Sector Economic Forum, is seen as the key force behind Pierre Louis Opont’s ascension to the head of the CEP.
No deal was ever reached to extend the terms of parliament or ratify Evans Paul as prime minister. But, with no functioning parliament after January 12, Evans Paul became de facto prime minister. On the day that parliamentarians’ terms expired, Paul met with Préval to try to build a consensus around his new government. The focus was on bringing the “moderate” opposition into the fold, as the U.S. had suggested – namely INITE and another party, Fusion.
One week later, the government announced a new cabinet. While many officials were hold-overs from previous Martelly governments, there were a few new faces, including representatives of both Fusion and INITE. Importantly, INITE was given the post of minister of the interior, which oversees local municipalities, seen as key for upcoming local and legislative elections.
While many in the opposition were not satisfied by the new government’s formation, an electoral timetable was announced the following month and the street protests eventually receded from the headlines.
But now, with two elections still scheduled this year, the political consensus which moved the process forward has fallen apart. Fusion’s three cabinet members resigned in early August in protest after Martelly made lewd and degrading remarks to a woman at a campaign rally in late July. Earlier in the day yesterday, before Vérité or INITE’s statements had been made public, the government announced a cabinet shift, naming replacements for the three Fusion members and moving Ariel Henry, INITE’s lone representative, from minister of the interior to minister of social affairs. Hours later Henry was instructed to resign. The new minister of the interior, Ardouin Zéphirin, was previously the departmental delegate to the North department, a position appointed by the executive. The North is the home department of PHTK presidential candidate Jovenel Moïse.
With Vérité’s announcement to withdraw from the electoral process, and INITE and Fusion’s departure from the government, it appears that the “consensus” government and the political alliances that moved Haiti toward the current electoral process have been broken.