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Port-au-Prince Caves under International Pressure to Hold Overdue Elections

Haiti's Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe

Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe

Reacting to a United Nations Security Council’s Jan. 28, 2013 press release that cilled on the Haitian government to hold free, fair, inclusive and credible senatorial and municipal elections that are 14-months overdue, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe reiterated his administration’s determination to organize elections this year, an exercise the note stressed “Is important to maintain political stability and create a climate conductive to economic and social development and the MINUSTAH stands ready to provide support in the areas of logistics and security for the elections.”

Talking to the national press, the Head of Government that faced growing popular anger and political opposition, said the electoral machine had, in fact, been turned on and the Martelly administration should publish the electoral calendar immediately after finding a consensus on creating the Transitional College for the Permanent Electoral Council (CTCEP French acronym). Lamothe, who reshuffled his cabinet twice in five months, pointed to ongoing meetings his government held with representatives of the international community about electoral issues, in his attempt to reassure his critics. He further indicated the United States, European Union, and Brazil promised to finance the elections, while Mariano Fernandez, former head of the MINUSTAH, promised logistical support to Haitian authorities.

According to many observers however, the reality on the ground varied vastly from the optimistic scenarios Lamothe painted to reporters. In fact, critics decried a lack of interest from Haitian leaders around creating the electoral entity that would organize elections; in spite of an important Christmas Eve agreement President Michel Martelly reached with members of parliament on the CTCEP to pave electoral roads that would help refill one-third of the 30-member Haitian senate and local magistrates.

Mariano Fernandez with President Martelly

Mariano Fernandez with President Martelly

Although he called that agreement an important first step, Fernandez, who concluded his 19-month tenure as MINUSTAH’s point man in Haiti last week, slammed the Martelly/Lamothe administration during an interview, citing its inability to deliver reconstruction projects. “There is something that, as a foreigner, I cannot comprehend,” confided the Chilean diplomat to Le Nouvelliste, a Haitian daily newspaper. “The political élite is cultivated,” continued Fernandez, “It has very smart people who speak several languages ​​with a great facility, people who travel a lot; yet, in the end, we arrive at the paradoxical conclusion that, perhaps, a lot of intelligence in politics is not necessary, ” he said, renewing his call for a political agreement that favored Haiti’s interest, rather than individuals’.

On a parallel plane, Michael Posner, U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights and labor, echoed similar concerns, following his three-day visit of the Haitian capital in early January, where he met government as well as civil society leaders. “This is really a moment where Haitians themselves have to own their future and find ways to engage with each other,” wrote Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles of Posner’s post-visit phone interview. While urging protagonists to find common ground on their divergent views, Posner perceived strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law, as good starting points. He did however acknowledge the daunting tasks faced the current administration simply because they are in control, not to forget its obligation to the people, often the object of harsh criticism. Quoting Posner’s concerns Charles wrote:

“There is a lack of faith in the system, the sense that the rule of law is not respected, that institutions like the judiciary and the police and the prisons and the prosecutors are not doing the job adequately, and that the government isn’t living up to expectations” he said. “These are long-standing problems. There is a sense that government needs to be more accountable, more open, there needs to be strong institutions. The country needs to operate in a more regular way. Those are huge challenges.”

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Michael Posner
photo: US State Department

As if those obstacles weren’t big enough for Haitian authorities, the elections suffered another major setback, when Religion for Peace, the mediation organization that helped brokered the Christmas Eve agreement, walked away from the negotiating table, amid what the entity, which comprises every religion in Haiti, called a deliberate barrage of indifference that prevented the CTCEP to take shape and facilitate new elections.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lamothe maintained his government remained undeterred in its goal to hold elections at the most appropriate time this year, although he conceded his government would propose new electoral laws to a legislative body it has yet to reach any agreement with since assuming office. Recently, lawmakers, namely members of the minority, prevented the Head of government from presenting his State of the Nation address in the National assembly. Unable to speak over horns, trumpets, vuvuzelas and other instruments deputies started blowing once he started his address, Lamothe simply walked out. The Prime Minister did not explain how his government planned to overcome parliamentary hurdles with the Head of State threatening to shorten the term of one-third of the senate by one year, threats lawmakers vehemently rejected as an unconstitutional attempt at a power grab by the executive.