Can Haiti’s Elections Handle 131 Political Parties?

Haitian political parties have come out in record numbers since the electoral calendar was announced in February 2015. To date, there are 131 parties registered with the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). While some may consider broad participation indicative of democratic vitality, many see it as a threat to fair elections, or even an attempt by the Martelly administration to limit voter choice by exerting greater control over the electoral process.

Administrative Challenges and Voter Confusion

The CEP, charged with the administration of elections, maintains that it will be virtually impossible to manage elections with all of the parties currently registered. Prime Minister Evans Paul has pled with political parties to come together to promote the “common good.” Considering the mismanagement that plagued Haiti’s 2010 elections, and the CEP’s assessment that its current election budget is $22 million USD short, there are legitimate concerns whether the CEP will be able to manage this year’s elections smoothly.

As of May 25, there are currently 1,858 legislatives candidates. This number includes the recent disqualifications of 522 legislative candidates who failed to meet the registration requirements of the electoral decree, as well as the reinstatement of 191 legislative candidates who were able to successfully challenge the validity of their disqualification.

Thus, the CEP will have to
 prepare ballots for thousands of candidates from 99 political parties for 138 available seats in the context of Haiti’s electorate, which is less than 50% literate. Ballots typically contain a box for each candidate, with the name of the candidate and party, a photo of the candidate, and the party’s number. A vote is considered valid as long as there is some clear marking somewhere in one (and only one) box.

With 11 candidates per seat on average, and many more in some cases, the ballots will be hard to navigate. Voters will struggle to find their preferred candidates amongst the sea of candidates and parties, many with similar names. The opportunities for mistakes, in both the marking and the counting will be magnified.

A ballot from a 1995 Senatorial election, courtesy of Andrew Reynolds. 

Why are there so many political parties in the first place?

“Only” 57 political parties participated in the 2006 elections, and 67 in the 2010 elections. As only a fraction of these parties were able to get their candidates elected, history should caution against the introduction of new parties. In fact, a new national electoral decree in March 2015 added new registration requirements to reduce the number of candidates by increasing the registration fees, and including subjective requirements such as, “fulfilling one’s duties as a citizen.”

One explanation for the proliferation of political parties reported by several prominent Haitian news outlets is that almost all of the new political parties formed after 2010 are linked to current Haitian President Michel Martelly. Political observers claim that President Martelly encouraged his political allies to create new parties in 2014, during a series of negotiations over Haiti’s political crisis known as the El Rancho accord. In the short-term, these new parties helped bolster claims that a bona fide multi-party coalition supported the El Rancho accord. In the long run it laid the groundwork for parties that could be influenced by President Martelly.

Further, there are no requirements that a political party contain a minimum level of support in order to register, such as acquiring a certain number of signatures or obtaining a specified percentage of the popular vote.

Promoting Voter Choice

With the first round of legislative elections scheduled to take place on August 9th, there are some measures that can be taken to increase the chances that voters will be effectively expressing their choices on a crowded ballot.

Rigorous and investigative journalism could push parties to take decisive stances on particular issues, and therefore aid voters in making more informed choices between various parties. Through grassroots organizing, the electorate could establish coalitions to steer their voting resources towards parties who share their views.

The CEP also has a role to play in promoting voter choice. The CEP can develop voter education programs to clarify voting procedures, and can help coordinate voting demonstrations within local communities.

Despite the large number of political parties, it is possible to make accommodations that will maximize the voting power of the Haitian electorate. The chaos predicted for Haiti’s legislative elections need not be inevitable.

Updated on May 26, 2015 at 3:26 PM EST. 

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