Photo Credit: Garry Pierre-Pierre
Photo Credit: Garry Pierre-Pierre

By Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. PhD

Francois Pierre-Louis is an associate professor of political science at Queens College. 

Haiti was scheduled to redo its failed presidential elections on Oct. 9; however, following the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and the devastation it had on the country, the electoral governing body of Haiti has postponed the elections for an undetermined date.

Although the 25 Presidential candidates have been in the running for over 2 years, many observers are still trying to sort out the difference between the candidates, their history and program. It is impossible in a few pages to provide all the information about the candidates. However since Haitian Times has asked me to help its readers sort out what is taking place in these elections, I thought I would help by providing a picture of the political landscape and why Haiti has found itself in such a mess with these elections.

First, one of the most noticeable aspects of the current campaign is that most people do not talk about the political parties that these candidates are running under. This is due to the fact that it is easier to create a political party in Haiti than to iron your shirt. Under the presidency of Michel Martelly, the laws on political parties was changed which allowed anyone who can assemble a dozen people to create his own political party. As a result, dozens of politicians decided that it was in their interest to create a brand new political party instead of joining existing ones.

The creation of a political party is a lucrative business in Haiti since the “owner” of the party can lease it to candidates who want to run for office. Since the electoral laws facilitate candidates that run under political parties, most individuals choose to do so even though they may not have any affiliation with the party and many times they are unaware of the party’s philosophy. Michel Martelly who was placed in office as President by Hillary Clinton in 2011 never belonged to a political party and usually expressed a lot of disdain for politicians and their parties in his songs. However, when he decided to run for office, he bought the right to run under the banner of a political party called “Reponse Paysans” Peasant Response.

After he was elected and the political party claimed the right to govern the state with him, his answer was that he paid heavily to buy the party, therefore the party has no right to pretend it will be included in his administration. As soon as he took office, he turned his back on the party and created his own political party called “Tet Kale” meaning Bald Head to help him govern.

Therefore, it is in the interest of every entrepreneur in Haiti to own a political party and Parliament under Martelly facilitated this process. Martelly had another reason to loosen the laws on political parties. He had hoped to dislodge the traditional political parties that were opposed to a series of legislation that he wanted to introduce as well as his mismanagement of the state. Moreover most of the leaders of the new parties were Martelly allies who tended to fill the room whenever his government invited the traditional political parties to meetings.

The traditional Political Parties

Political poster for former President Jean-Betrand Aristide (1990)
Political poster for former President Jean-Betrand Aristide (1990)

After the fall of Duvalier in 1986, many prominent exile politicians such as former President Lesly Manigat, leaders of the Haitian Communist Party, Rene Theodore and Gerard Pierre Charles, leaders of the Socialist Party such as Serge Gilles, Victor Benoit, Arnold Antonin, and members of the Catholic clergy who were active in the faith based Christian communities returned to Haiti to help rebuild a new society. One of the first initiatives they took was the creation of political parties that reflected their philosophy. These parties such as Rassemblement des Democrates Nationales Progressistes (RDNP) of Lesly Manigat, United Communist Party of Rene Theodore, CONACOM of Victor Benoit and Parti Socialiste Haitien of Serge Gilles began to recruit members, provided training on party discipline, ideology and drafted program to prepare for national elections that were going to be held in 1987. These parties are considered traditional along with others such as Pati Louvri Barye (PLB), Fanmi Lavalas, Oganizasyon Pep kap Lite (OPL) that were created after President Aristide was overthrown in 1991. A major characteristic of these parties was that it was possible to classify them as either Left, Right or Center because of their ideology.

When President Aristide came back in 1994, many of his supporters could not agree to create one big political party. Therefore, they settled temporarily on forming a party called Organisation Politique Lavalas (OL) which regrouped several other leftist parties to support the candidacy of Rene Preval to replace President Aristide in office. As soon as Preval took office, OL disbanded. Aristide split with Gerard Pierre Charles and created his own political party called Fanmi Lavalas. Since Organisation Politique Lavalas (OL) was dominated primarily by former members of the Communist Party under the leadership of Gerard Pierre Charles and OL had name recognition as well as an established infrastructure, Pierre Charles decided to change OL’s name to Organisation Pep kap Lite (OPL).

Since 1996 with the first presidential elections after the return of Aristide, these parties dominated the country’s political landscape. Their members became senators, deputies, mayors, as well as ministers, director generals of ministries and ambassadors. At times they created alliances among themselves in an attempt to diminish the dominant power that Fanmi Lavalas had in the politics of the country. Many other times, they boycotted national elections to protest the unfair practices of the various provisional Electoral Councils that were established to oversee the elections. Aristide succeeded Rene Preval as President in 2001 in a highly controversial election. Several traditional parties boycotted that election.

They organized an armed resistance against Aristide and succeeded with the support of France and the United States to remove him from power in 2004. After 2 years of provisional rule, Rene Preval created his own political party to run for a second term. He assumed office in 2006. His most important political achievement was to disband Aristide’s political party Fanmi Lavalas by removing and facilitating the emergence of certain prominent leaders in the party such as Moise Jean Charles, Assad Volcy, John Joel Joseph, Rene Momplaisir and others. He supported their elections in the National Assembly, recruited them as advisers, etc. Rene Preval also maneuvered to ban Fanmi Lavalas candidates from running in the 2009 elections for the National Assembly by disqualifying the party.

As a result of this decision, Fanmi Lavalas was split into thousands of pieces and with the absence of Aristide who was in exile in South Africa, the party was no longer a political force to be reckoned with. Preval did not only move to undermine Fanmi Lavalas, he applied the same strategy with all the other traditional political parties through personal politics, patronage and bribes. Those he could not subdue were cast aside. In his five years in office (2006-2011), he created two political parties or coalition groups (LESPWA and INITE) to undermine the traditional political parties and to assure that he would not have any opposition to his administration.

By 2011 when he had to leave office, there was little faith in the traditional political parties since under Preval’s administration, it was easier to obtain a prominent political appointment if the person was not affiliated with any political party or had renounced his membership in the party. All the traditional political parties lost key leaders to Preval’s LESPWA and INITE. This was also the end of the bargaining power that the traditional political parties had in the political system.

Former President Michel Martelly
Former President Michel Martelly

The path of Michel Martelly to the Presidency of Haiti was in many ways laid by Preval. He showed that one does not have to belong to a political party to become President. Leaders and members of the traditional political parties are willing to shed their allegiance once they are offered appointments even though the person who offered it to them may not be in the same party or share the same ideological position.

The dismantling of the traditional political parties, the loosening of the law for new political parties by Martelly created a perfect storm in 2015 when 65 politicians decided to run for President and thousands of others for the National Assembly. After the debacle of the Presidential elections in 2015 which resulted in the installation of a provisional government to replace Martelly, many of the 65 candidates withdrew and only 25 decided to take their chances again in 2016. Of the 25 candidates, about 5 of them appear to have been able to mobilize the electorate.

The 25 candidates could easily be grouped into 3 categories: 4 of them (Jude Celestin, Moise Jean Charles, Henry Ceant, Maryse Narcisse) come from the Lavalas sector and they tend to attract the same electorate. The program of these 4 individuals tend to be the same such as promoting agriculture, higher tariffs on imported goods, and encouraging national industries through various government and private sector incentives.

The second group under the leadership of Jovenel Moise, who is Martelly’s chosen replacement, shares the spot light with more than 13 neoconservative candidates such as Marc Arthur Drouillard, Chavannes Jeunes and other. Since Jovenel Moise has benefited previously from the state apparatus and is able to pay for the services of an outside American-Spanish consulting firm, he has overtaken the other neoconservative candidates that share his philosophy. This allows him to remain a serious candidate even though Martelly is no longer in power to give him access to state resources for his campaign.

The third category represents individuals such as Clarens Renois, Jacques Sampeur who could have easily ran under the banner of Fusion Party whose leader and presidential candidate is Edmonde Beauzile. The Fusion party is an offshoot of the traditional Socialist party of Serge Gilles. Fusion which collaborated closely with Martelly (its former President Victor Benoit was Minister of Social Affairs) boycotted the elections in 2015 after a falling out between the Party and Martelly. Beauzile decided to run after the process was reopened by the new Provisional Electoral Council.

There are a number of independent candidates out of the 25 individuals who believe that they will be in a better bargaining position with the incoming government for a prominent position if their name is on the ballot. Many of them have not ran any campaign since they have no money. In 2015, the Provisional Electoral Council provided campaign funds to the candidates. Many of them took the money and did not even have a poster on the streets. Since Haiti is a country where impunity is king, one can take taxpayers’ money under a lot of ruse to use it for personal gain and be called a hero for being so smart.

The infusion of large sums of money in the elections has discouraged well-meaning individuals from running for office. It is well-known that many candidates in the last botched presidential elections paid each person who voted for them one thousand gourdes (1,000 ht gourdes) for their vote. More over a presidential candidate needs thousands of dollars on election day to assure that their poll workers will not sell their votes to another candidate and will stay until the end to monitor the process. Therefore, if you can’t raise a large sum of money, don’t even bother to run.

The dismantling of the traditional political parties, the infusion of large sums of money in the campaign and the lack of state’s capacity to enforce laws on money laundering, drug trafficking and influence peddling have left the Haitian electorate confused and demoralized. No matter who wins this election, the winner will be contested. The current Electoral Commission has vowed to remain impartial. However, with 25 candidates that are unequal at every level in term of resources and organization, and a past history of having every presidential election contested except the one in 1990 that elected Aristide, we should not expect anything different. But, if the CEP successfully hold the elections on October 9 and there is a winner, it will be considered a milestone for Haiti and maybe the beginning of a new era to rebuild the political parties and begin to organize Haitian politics differently.

Lavalas or closely relatedFusion or closely relatedPHTK and neo-conservativeIndependent
Maryse NarcisseEdmonde BeauzileJovenel MoiseMonestime Diony
Moise Jean CharlesJacques SampeurJean Bertin 
Jude CelestinClarens RenoisKesler Dalmacy 
Jean Henry CeantJean Herve CharlesVilaire Clunny Duroseau 
 Magloire RolandJean Ronald Cornely 
 Andre AmosJean Poincy 
 Durandisse Joseph VarnelJean Chavannes Jeune 
  Nelson Flecourt 
  Marc-Arthur Drouillard 
  Luckner Desir 
  Gerard Dalvius 
  Daniel Dupiton 
  Marie Antoinette Gauthier 
  Joseph Harry Bretous 

Two of the 27 candidates withdrew their candidacy.

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