Port-au-Prince (AFP) – As Haiti prepared Tuesday to bury a former dictator who had little use for elections, it seemed all but certain that a long-delayed legislative vote due later this month will again be postponed.
Four years after a sudden massive earthquake devastated the Haitian capital, the streets of Port-au-Prince are again bustling with working people struggling to get by, but there is no sign of any political campaign.
President Michel Martelly decreed in June that there would be an election on October 26, but the National Assembly has yet to pass an electoral law and the provisional election commission is running out of time to organize a vote.
Polls have been delayed before — these are three years late — but if there is no vote soon the mandates of the rest of the members of the already depleted assembly will expire, creating a political vacuum.
Martelly has not formally called off the vote but it seems improbable that any credible election can now be organized.
Nehemie Joseph, a member of the CEP or Provisional Electoral Commission, said: “The CEP has advised the president that it is impossible to respect this date for two reasons: There’s no electoral code and there’s no preparation in place.”
Joseph, appointed to the commission to represent the legislature, said the body was at work but that it would take at least 15 more days to recruit electoral workers, more to train them and that the CEP faces “persistent financial pressures.”
“We don’t have any money. The CEP hasn’t got a dime,” he told AFP.
Ten senatorial seats expired in January 2012, leaving the 30-strong chamber two thirds of its proper size and struggling to reach a quorum.
– Mandates expire –
Next year, the mandates of another third of the Senate seats will expire, along with those of all 99 members of the lower house. Thus, without elections, Haiti will no longer have an operating legislative branch of government to hold Martelly to account.
Martelly had thought the matter resolved in June, when he gathered civil society and church representatives at a hotel in Port-au-Prince to sign the so-called “El Rancho agreement” laying out a path to elections.
But some lawmakers and the opposition have resisted the measure, claiming that the electoral commission is not independent and that any vote would not be fair.
Some observers, like Haiti expert and University of California professor Amy Wilentz, blame Martelly, arguing that he would be only too happy to allow the legislature “to wither away” and then to rule by presidential edict.
Wilentz, author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti since Duvalier,” accused Martelly of having a “Duvalierist” disrespect for democratic process and defended Haitian lawmakers from criticism that they have not moved quickly enough to pass an electoral law.
“I believe that the legislature has tried to force Martelly to appoint an objective, fair electoral council, rather than one that believes in rubber stamping,” she said.
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Martelly and thanked him for “his efforts to build consensus around electoral legislation that will allow elections to occur in a timely fashion.
And he “stressed the need for all Haitians to come together in good faith to support elections.”
Since the El Rancho agreement, Martelly has organized a large outreach program to business, religious and civil society groups to consult on the way forward.
On Tuesday, in the latest stage of the initiative, he was to gather ministers in another Port-au-Prince hotel for an “exchange” with stakeholders on spending priorities for the next fiscal year, whether there are elections or not.