By Brian Concannon Jr.
This article originally Published by The Hill
Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, is a charismatic showman who has been a faithful ally to the Obama administration for the past five years. But it is time for his public office curtain call, and the administration needs to stop supporting his illegal efforts to extend his engagement.
President Martelly’s term ends next February 7, and Haiti’s Constitution prohibits his re-election. The singer-turned-politician is trying to hold on to power anyway by manipulating a three-part series of elections this year for almost every elected office in the country.
The plan is working, so far. The government’s parties and its allies claim close to a majority in Parliament, and Martelly’s anointed successor, Jovenel Moise, was credited with 34 percent of the vote and first place in the first round presidential voting. A runoff between Moise and second-place candidate Jude Celestin is scheduled for December 27.
The first voting of the series–legislative elections on August 9–was marred by disappearing votes and widespread violence largely committed by government supporters. Violence forced the closure of 13 percent of voting centers, and 23 percent of local tally sheets never made it to the national count. The October 25 first-round presidential elections and legislative runoffs were less violent, but more fraudulent. In both elections, over 70 percent of voters did not vote, either intimidated, excluded or discouraged.
The problems with the elections have been well documented from the start, by Haitian and international media, election observation missions, and political parties not allied with the government.
But recently the evidence of malfeasance has mounted to almost absurd levels. An exit poll published November 19 indicated that Moise really came in fourth, not first, with 6 percent of the vote, not 34 percent. On November 24, officials announced that an audit of a sample of 78 tally sheets showed fraud or irregularities in all 78. The Electoral Council did discard the 78 sheets, but refused further investigation.
As the evidence of fraud mounts, so does anger and frustration in Haiti. On Monday, the country’s Catholic Bishops issued an unusually strong denunciation of the fraud, echoing earlier statements by human rights groups and Protestant pastors. Pro-democracy activists have taken to the streets in increasingly frequent and large demonstrations, shutting down major cities. The police have responded with arrests, rubber bullets and even live ammunition fired at peaceful protestors, while regime supporters attacked protesters with rocks and machetes.
The repression has not deterred those calling for fair elections. In fact it has hardened their stance. Two weeks ago most critics called for an investigation, but the continued fraud and attacks have convinced most actors that the government cannot be trusted to run fair elections. They now insist on substantial, immediate changes to election and police officials or a transitional government before any more voting.
The United States has been President Martelly’s most generous financial and diplomatic supporter throughout his term. The State Department, which has investing $33 million in these elections, has dismissed complaints of Martelly’s manipulating—including the loss of 23 percent of the August votes–as not important. The Department asserts that the process must move forward in order to provide the stability Haiti needs for economic development.
Secretary of State John Kerry did travel to Haiti in October for a private audience with Martelly, reportedly to deliver a private warning against further misconduct. But that warning was evidently ignored, with no evident consequences to U.S support for the regime.
President John Kennedy famously warned that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Haitians are trying their best to make peaceful revolution, first by voting, and when they were unable to do that fairly, by taking to the streets. If the Martelly administration and its international supporters continue to impose a fraudulent and violent “election,” they will leave Haitians with few options besides disruptive civil unrest that could plague the country until the next presidential elections in 2020.
There is still time for the United States to use its influence with the Martelly administration to help reach a peaceful, democratic solution to the crisis. But as the protests and repressive response to protests spiral upward, that time is quickly running out.
Concannon, a human rights lawyer, is executive director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, www.IJDH.org, and a former Organization of American States Election observer in Haiti.