By Onz Chery and Larisa Karr
Some of the few who actually wanted to vote simply couldn’t. Fabrice Cénéus was one of them. He had turned 18 in 2016 and, filled with excitement, registered for his first electoral card in March of that year.
The eight-month wait before the election turned to weeks, then to days. Eventually on election day, Nov. 20, 2016, Cénéus was among the scores of Port-au-Prince residents who never received an electoral card.
Then he watched Jovenel Moïse win the election by a ‘massive fraud,’ according to multiple experts. Cénéus didn’t even have a say in his country’s current state, while others were seen voting three times, according to the Miami Herald.
Despite the heartache from the previous election, Cénéus is hopeful that through the 2021 election Haiti can put itself into a position to start developing.
“I want to be one of those who help Haiti change. There will be good candidates,” said Cénéus, a political science student at the Northern Department’s University of Haiti. “We don’t vote for the people we’re supposed to. In the next election, if we really want change, we have to elect someone with the skills needed.”
But rather than producing a competent president, the upcoming presidential election could leave Haiti in ruins. For starters, whether to hold it or not has turned into a tug of war. Moïse’s administration is all for it but the opposition is against it. This disagreement could aggravate the insecurity crisis the country is experiencing. The United States, which holds sway in Haiti’s affairs, is divided as well on whether or not to hold the election. Washington has been pressuring Haiti to speed the preparations while some officials like California congresswoman Maxine Waters are urging them to stop.
Residents are reluctant about having the presidential election under Moïse’s leadership because they believe that he will sabotage it and ensure that his political party, the Tet Kale Party (PHTK), stays in office. But he isn’t allowed to run for a consecutive second term, according to Haiti’s constitution.
“If they allow Jovenel to go and have his election the way he wants to do it, then that means you are just legitimizing a structure that’s illegal, detrimental to democracy,” said François Pierre-Louis, a political science professor at CUNY Queens College. “If it’s done the way he’s doing it, obviously, the favorite people that would be running would be his people.”
Multiple political analysts said Moïse is not even supposed to be the president during the election because his term finishes on February 7, 2021. Moïse fired back at them by saying he’s scheduled to leave the National Palace on February 7, 2022.
A presidential term in Haiti is supposed to last five years. Moïse was elected in November 2016 but didn’t start leading the country until February 2017 because of political unrest.
Holding an election under a president where scores of residents believe that his term already ended could lead to scorching protests. Opposition leaders have led multiple protests during Moïse’s term thus far.
PHTK’s alleged wrongdoings to remain in power
PHTK orders gang members and police officers (or bandits in police uniforms) to confront those protesters, human rights experts and political observers have said.
“You have all those gangs who are shooting. Those gangs would be emboldened because they are supported by the current government,” Pierre-Louis said. “You have a lot of police officers who are sworn to be professional and protect the population but are attacking the population.”
Police officers have been caught on camera throwing tear gas and assaulting peaceful protesters on various occasions. In one of the opposition’s latest protests on Nov. 18, police officers drove into a motorcycle. The two riders were taken to the hospital.
Experts’ serious accusation about the government partnering with gangs to remain in power isn’t completely baseless either.
Fednel Monchéry and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, two former members of Moïse’s administration have already been sanctioned by the United States for orchestrating a massacre in La Saline in 2018, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince where anti-government protests used to take place. At least 71 residents were killed and more than 400 homes were destroyed.
Richard Fourcand, another member of Moïse’s administration, was involved in the illegal shipping of guns in Haiti in 2016.
To add to the government’s alleged use of violence to remain in power, political observers accused Moïse of unethically naming the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). He allegedly picked members from sectors that are not authorized by the constitution.
Because of those conspiracies, the election has been delayed, experts said. They added that it’s best to push the election even further back because of the corruption and the violence that’s waiting to unfold.
The Haitian-US elections
Nevertheless, a stronger force outside of Haiti has been advocating for the election: the United States.
“Frankly, I have to say I’m a little bit tired of every group, every opposition party in Haiti saying, ‘Well, I won’t appoint my person,’ or ‘We won’t have an election,’ or ‘We won’t run in this until you meet all of my political demands,’” an unnamed senior U.S. State Department official told the Miami Herald on Sept. 16.
Two days later, Moïse nominated the nine-member CEP. Again in late November, the Core Group, a group of foreign diplomats, urged Haiti to speed up the election planning. Two days later, the CEP announced they’re preparing an electoral calendar.
“I think elections in Haiti is the business of the U.S., not the business of Haitian people,” said Nixon Boumba, a human rights activist based in Port-au-Prince. “Haiti is not an independent country, a sovereign country. It is like a colony, a colony of the U.S.”
Voters not fond of opposition either
So far, no one has officially declared their candidacy. One of the few officials who’s hinting that he might run for president is Moïse Jean-Charles, a leader in the opposition. He made a campaign-like speech during a protest on Nov. 18. He ran in the last elections and finished third.
Scores of residents don’t trust the opposition either. Without concrete proof, they often accused them of being corrupt like Moïse. A controversy between Jean-Charles and Andre Michel, another leader in the opposition, erupted in November.
Jean-Charles told reporters that other leaders in the opposition should focus on their jobs instead of getting into politics. Michel responded by saying Jean-Charles joined forces with the PHTK and called Jean-Charles an imbecile on Twitter.
Their controversy pushed more residents further away from the opposition.
“You guys make me want to throw up,” Reynald Toussaint commented under Michel’s tweet.
Election dates are shady, expert says
Moïse added more confusion and controversy to the preparations by asking for a constitutional referendum to be held before the election. The CEP scheduled it for March. They have yet to release a date for the election, but based on the date of the constitutional referendum, candidates will have just about three months to prepare their campaign. Comparatively, the U.S. presidential candidates campaign for an average of 531 days.
However starting campaign events wouldn’t be the safest choice. Boumba said residents feel unprotected because of the kidnapping crisis. As of October, Haitian civil society groups counted 161 cases of kidnappings in 2020.
But based on the Haitian government’s history of postponing important events, one shouldn’t go ahead and put the dates the CEP has announced on their calendar yet.
“So many deadlines have passed and nothing has happened and the government has power,” Pierre-Louis said. “So, it’s very hard to predict when the next election is going to be.”
Because of their manipulation, it’s nearly impossible for the PHTK to lose the election, Boumba said. Yet, residents like Cénéus are still willing to try to beat the system that has crippled Haiti’s elections for years. The trick is to vote in high numbers, he said.
“The less people who vote, the higher the possibility of corruption,” Cénéus said. “I always encourage people in my circle to vote, but they’re reluctant. Let’s go, let’s try. We have one last chance, let’s work with what we have.”