The Elections: Now We're Adults
The Haitian elections have been one more step on the road to democracy and should open up spaces for this people and their government to formulate their own national development project and regain their sovereignty.
Haiti-Latin America Encounter
Haiti's population has survived terrible travails to go from dictatorship to democracy, to establish structures of local and national power responsible for the development of a humanist society. Only a year ago, hundreds of Haitians daily fled the terror of the dictatorship in rafts, hundreds of thousands were living in clandestinity and the entire government resisted exile. Now, with its new elections, Haiti has taken another crucial step along its democratic road so strewn with obstacles.
On June 25, millions of Haitians showed their determination to peacefully fill the vacant posts of 18 Senators, 83 Deputies, 133 communal council members and 561 local administration officials, choosing among almost 11,000 candidates from 27 parties or political groupings. The elections were a clear victory for the Lavalás Political Platform, which brought President Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1990. More than 80 of the 101 deputy and senate seats and over 100 of the 133 mayoralties went to the Lavalás "table."
Massive, Peaceful, Open ParticipationSome 4 million Haitians more than 90% of those eligible registered to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Determined to occupy their political space, over half of them struggled through the innumerable technical, administrative, financial and political difficulties, both internal and external. They also refused to be intimidated by the threats from those who were unwilling to renounce the privileges they had enjoyed under the dictators.
According to the international observers and some 1,000 national observers, as well as reports of the national and foreign press, which contributed to the transparency of the process, the elections were the most peaceful in Haiti's history. Observer reports described the Haitian people freely expressing their political option despite all the logistical difficulties and concluded that there had been no indication of systematic electoral fraud.
In general, all agreed that:
The citizenry participated massively and peacefully throughout the country.
The voters waited patiently in line, sometimes for hours, outside the polling stations while officials worked to correct technical deficiencies.
The monitors representing the diverse political parties and candidates remained at the voting tables throughout the day observing the process.
The electoral officials made huge efforts to count and certify the ballots by candle and torch light to assure the purity of the elections.
The coverage by the national and foreign media and the nearly 2,000 observers was extensive and unrestricted.
The new National Police, the Interim National Police, the 900 monitors of the Civil Policy and 6,000 foreign soldiers from the United Nations Mission in Haiti worked in close collaboration to guarantee the security of the event.
Main ProblemsThe problems on election day were generated mainly by the complexity of the electoral process and the scarcity of resources, communication, transport and administrative structures.
There were also some incidents: attacks and threats by party sympathizers against voters and electoral employees. Among the problems detected were:
Errors on the ballots, which affected some of the candidates.
Slow ups in distributing the electoral material.
Delays, in some cases of several hours, in opening the polling stations.
A lack of secrecy, mainly caused by illiteracy (which is 80% at a national level) and the lack of adequate civic education programs.
Destruction of several electoral offices, which forced the electoral officials to halt the process until corrective measures had been taken to guarantee election security and integrity.
Among the most serious difficulties the electoral process as a whole had to deal with could be mentioned:
A total lack of electoral infrastructure.
Delays in paying the salaries of electoral officials.
A lack of articulation between the various national and foreign actors involved in the process: political parties, electoral authorities, UN agencies, the Haitian government, donor country governments, AID, OAS and organizations responsible for helping with civic education, training and printing of the ballots among them the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute of the United States, the International Foundation of Electoral Systems and others.
Control by the international organizations of the financing provided to the Provisional Electoral Committee (CEP) to carry out the electoral process. The international organizations charged with distributing the funds decided not to provide funds to the CEP for education programs, instead turning the financing for this purpose over to other organizations that did not adequately implement the education programs.
Delays in the receipt of the material requested of the international donors by the CEP.
International pressures to hold the elections in a time period that was too short.
Attacks, aggressions and intimidations against electoral officials by those who refused to accept the new democratic context.
Complementary ElectionThe electoral authorities worked without rest to guarantee the integrity of the elections. The CEP, made up of nine members who represent a broad spectrum of political tendencies, decided to organize complementary elections in August with the following criteria:
Areas in which the elections did not take place.
Situations in which the official reports from the electoral tables and the ballots were destroyed.
Areas in which at least 50% of the electoral offices could not function.
Between the elections of June and the ones in August, President Aristide initiated dialogues with the political leaders so they would accept the results of the citizenry's vote, exhorting them to shake free their attitude of demagogy and violence.
Conditioned AssistanceThroughout the electoral process, the CEP only had access to a small percentage of the election financing: that earmarked for paying the salaries of the electoral employees. The international governments and agencies controlled the rest: financing for the purchase of office and electoral materials, telecommunications and counting equipment, civic education programs, and technical training and assistance. The total aid offered amounted to $15 million, with a large portion of its disbursement conditioned to the contracting of organizations and companies of the country providing the funds. For example: a condition on the "help" from the United States was that a US company be contracted to print the ballots, despite the serious communication and transport difficulties involved in printing the ballots abroad and the fact that Haiti itself has two printing companies one of which is the largest in the Caribbean.
The generous foreign assistance permitted Haiti's elections, even though control of that assistance by the foreign agencies accentuated the disarticulation among the different actors involved. Haitian authorities had to solicit the international agencies for the most elementary materials, which meant delays of three to six months for each delivery. Another example: the filing cabinets requested for the electoral offices were delivered to the Electoral Council on June 23, only two days before the elections and over six months after having formally requested them. The vehicles, electricity generators, tape recorders, computers, photocopy machines, etc. that were provided were sometimes seriously unsuitable, given local conditions.
The computers were equipped with programs that were too sophisticated for the limited training and experience of the local officials, which made them function very slowly. Other equipment, such as the photocopiers, lacked spare parts.
Despite all this, the elections have opened more democratic space for millions of Haitians and are one more step along the road. According to sociologist Gerard Pierre Charles, leader of the Lavalás Political Platform, in an interview with ALAI, "There has been a strong process of social change, of mutation, for 10 years now, something like the Mexican Revolution and the great historic processes that have occurred in Latin America. During these 10 years, the people have faced thousands of deaths, reforms and counter reforms and now we have reached a new stage of democratic institutionalization. Duvalierism as a political and social system was already broken by the popular struggle and its attempt at military restoration has been opposed by the dissolution of the army.
"With the elections," says Charles, "we have reached a new stage of democratic institutionalization by establishing policies of alliance, of economic turnaround and of seeking agreement for a social bloc that can formulate a national development proposal. This process opens up the possibility of achieving governability, which is the indispensable condition for success in negotiating with the international forces.
"Obviously, it should not be expected that this process will be integrally fulfilled so as to negotiate with them, but based on the elections and an alliance policy, we think that the conditions exist for the foreign troops to leave and the country to again recover all the attributes of its sovereignty."
LETTER FROM A HAITIAN PEASANT to
distinguished Haitian writer Felix Morisseau-Leroy
Everyone in the cities has been talking about the elections for weeks now. They are talked about on radio and in the press. They are talked about in Creole, in French and in English. What hasn't been said, what hasn't been said? At times, everyone talks at the same time.
I, my friend, wouldn't know how to say how these elections went in the city. What I can state, without fear of being wrong,
is that in the countryside they went well. Why well? It's the first time that we peasants went to vote to elect those who will be responsible for our future. It's the first time we elected chiefs we trust to run our offices, chiefs we will be able to control, ones we can reelect if they fulfill their mandate well and will be able to remove if they don't carry out their responsibilities well.
That's why on that Sunday morning, when I woke up my wife, my sons and daughters, each with their electoral card, I sincerely
felt we were involved in the most important act we could carry out in our whole existence. I felt like an adult in possession of all my powers. My wife was an adult, my sons and daughters were adults, and the companions we came upon on the road and who were walking in the same direction with the same responsibility as us were adults.
The land where we were born and the sun that shines down on us belonged wholly to us. The office before us was our office. It's not the office of the State, it's the office of the people. My wife, my children, my friends, who know this office belongs to us, are willing to defend it because they know that it's more for them than a church.
On that June 25 Sunday there were elections to choose senators, deputies and justices. All my family and friends participated
in those elections. But the elections for senators concern a whole department, those for deputies concern a whole district and those for justices only concern the cities and towns.
The elections that concerned peasants like myself, my wife, my children and my neighbors were those that named the council members of the communal sections where we live and work, people who in our view are interested in visible and perceptible progress for our communal section. Now you can understand why that day was so exceptionally important to our lives.
I'm writing to a man of the city to try to explain what the disappearance of the rural police chiefs means to us. They had their boots on the necks of the peasants, they enjoyed the right
to kill us at their whim, the right to cut bananas from the backyard of any citizen like myself, to carry off my cow, tied to the post of my house, to do whatever they pleased without having to account to anyone.
Try to imagine for a moment being in our situation and suddenly they come to announce that those chiefs no longer exist. And
that from today on, you will elect those who will be responsible for governing the communal section where you live with your wife, your children, your neighbors, your brothers and sisters. Tell me if you aren't going to celebrate that day, even if you don't have enough money to make a special service in honor of your protective spirits or food for your saints where all the children happily stuff themselves with their waistbands unbuttoned.
The elections for the communal sections were more successful than those of the cities. But that's not enough. The Constitution requires the council to organize an assembly that should function like a small parliament. The government needs to activate it and submit to a vote the laws that will allow these institutions to be established. The Constitution also says: "The State has the obligation to establish at the level of each communal section the structures appropriate to the social, economic, civic and cultural formation of their populations."
I've heard it said that there were those who asked that the elections be annulled. That's their problem. We're ready
to vote again if necessary, without removing or adding anything to what we've already expressed.
I greet you,