By Haitian Times Editorial Staff
On the eve of President-elect Jovenel Moïse’s inauguration, international legal observers released a report citing Haiti’s democratic institutions as “suffering a profound crisis of confidence.”
Low turnout, voter disenfranchisement and lingering concerns about fraud raised troubling questions about the breadth of the president’s mandate, according to the report, entitled Haiti’s Unrepresentative Democracy: Disenfranchisement and Disillusionment in the November 20 Elections.
Despite improvement in security and electoral administration, the 2015 elections saw the lowest participation, at a rate of 21 percent, for a national election in the Western Hemisphere since 1945, according to the report.
“Many Haitians did not vote, not because they did not want to, but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards, registering to vote and finding their names on outdated electoral lists,” said attorney Nicole Phillips, delegation leader and co-author of the report.
According to the report, many would-be voters were “disenfranchised” due to pervasive errors on electoral lists, difficulties accessing identity cards, and lack of voter education. Haitian electoral authorities also failed to take adequate measures against fraudulent voting. Prior to the election, the head of the National Identification Office (ONI) admitted that 2.4 million activated but undistributed cards had gone missing, which opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.
A decade of elections marked by violence, vote-rigging, disenfranchisement, and repeated foreign interventions have dashed the high hopes of the post-Duvalier years and bred a deep disillusionment with democracy, according to the report. Paradoxically, falling participation rates have occurred alongside massive investments by the international community in Haiti’s electoral apparatus.
“The millions spent by the United States and other Core Group countries on democracy promotion programs have produced an electoral system that is weaker, less trusted and more exclusionary than what came before,” said Brian Concannon Jr., executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
President Moïse’s swearing-in will mark a return to constitutional rule after a several-year long hiatus, but there are concerns that he will follow in the undemocratic footsteps of his predecessor. President Michel Martelly surrounded himself with figures tied to the former Duvalier dictatorship and drew criticism from human rights defenders for intimidating journalists and illegally imprisoning opposition political activists.
“With a majority in parliament, the temptation for President Moïse to run roughshod over any opposition will be great,” said Concannon. “But with the backing of only 9.6 percent of registered voters, the incoming president will face serious limits to his popular mandate.”
President Moïse is currently under investigation for money laundering, and has proposed a number of controversial measures, including reviving the Haitian Army and launching ten agricultural free trade zones. The report also notes serious doubts about democratic credentials of many senators and deputies, who owe their seats more to the violence, disruptions and fraud of the 2015 elections that put them into office than to the will of Haitian voters.
The NLG-IADL report calls on the Haitian authorities to clean up electoral lists, eliminate electoral card trafficking, end impunity for electoral violence and fraud, and increase women’s participation in politics.