By TwensQueen Jean-Baptiste
Feb. 7, 2016 marked the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship and symbolized the end of Michel Martelly’s term as president of Haiti. As he returned the presidential sash and waved goodbye, Martelly not only left the National Palace, but also left the country in a crisis.
During his term, the former president failed to hold legislative elections, leading him to rule by decree in 2015. The Constitution barred him from seeking another term. Thus, international actors, led by the United States, stepped in. With 1,857 candidates, 98 different political parties, and $30 million from the U.S., Haiti had its first round of legislative elections. But, the main attraction was the presidential elections and the 54 candidates vying for power. Shortly after elections, candidates decried fraud and demanded an investigation. Frankly, it’s in the best interest of the Haitian government to create an independent and transparent investigation.
First, the allegations of fraud, ballot stuffing, and ballot destruction are not rare in Haitian elections. This is a problem. Haitians need answers. An independent and transparent investigation will show those in the country and the world just how serious the allegations are and that the Haitian government is taking action to address them. This will in turn begin to break away at the corruption stereotype that has tainted Haiti. The people’s voices need to be heard and be respected.
Second, Jude Celestin refused to participate in a runoff election unless an investigation took place. Celestin’s refusal to take part in the runoff, meant an election with a single candidate, which would not be the democratic way. Therefore, a full investigation was necessary to either support or reject the fraud allegations.
Lastly, a provisional government is currently in place with hopes that elections will take place late April. There have already been two postponements due to violent protests demanding the allegations of fraud be investigated. Yet, there has not been a full investigation. The provisional government is only supposed to hold office for 120 days. Without an investigation, there is a great risk that the term will surpass its designated end, leading to more violent protests and more senseless bloodshed.
Critics will say that the country is corrupt, its government is corrupt, and so the investigation will be corrupt as well. That’s untrue. The investigation can be, and must be,independent and transparent. The government should build a coalition of investigators who do not have a stake in any particular party. This is where diaspora groups can come into play. They can provide knowledge and experience in criminal justice and election investigation. They will be impartial and unafraid. The government can vet interested candidates and provide ground rules. But in the end, Haitians and the world can rest assure that the process will be independent and transparent. Including the media will also assure transparency. The media plays a large role in Haitian society, and it should play an even bigger role in the investigation.
Six years after the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake shattered Haiti and approximately $13 billion later, the country is still “the poorest country in the western hemisphere” and a “failed state.” Furthermore, it is a country still struggling for true democracy.
Haitians want a choice and a voice. They deserve an independent, transparent investigation that gives them the answers they seek in order to move forward in free and fair elections. They deserve a government that listens to them and acts on their behalf to build a better, stronger future for Haiti.
TwensQueen Jean-Baptiste is a Masters candidate at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.