International Coverage of Elections Ignores Some Glaring Problems

International press coverage of Haiti's latest round of elections on October 25 has been scant. Among foreign journalists who did cover the country’s Presidential, legislative and municipal elections held on October 25, the themes of "no violence," "calm" and "no big snags" have dominated the headlines. Such assessments are not entirely misleading, if Sunday’s elections are compared to the first-round legislative elections of August 9.

Yet this is the biggest problem with the coverage thus far: it takes the disastrous August 9 elections as an uncontroversial standard for comparison. That is setting the bar for acceptability at an extremely low level, considering that August 9 is widely regarded by Haitians as one of the worst elections held in the country since 1987.

Perhaps the biggest test for the CEP may well be controlling for the numerous instances of political party representatives (‘mandataires’) and other voters casting multiple ballots. This problem was highlighted in a press release from an observation coalition of Haitian civil society groups, which alleged that ballot-box stuffing was “systematic” in several voting centers.

The Haitian press has expressed many reservations about the elections. Frantz Duval, in an editorial for Le Nouvelliste, argued that the praise being heaped on the October 25 elections was excessive. Duval remarked on the phenomenon of multiple voting and warned that the “hardest part” was yet to come.

"On Sunday, disorder and violence were defeated. Will fraud and manipulation be held in check?"

The collection and transportation of tally sheets and other sensitive materials, the tabulation of results and the adjudication of electoral disputes were all possible problem areas, according to Duval.

"The Haitian electoral process stretches out over 20 days what in other countries happens in a couple of hours ... this leaves time for anything."

Some of the initial reports have been better than others, striking an appropriately skeptical note about the apparent improvements in the electoral process:

"As the counting gets under way, that will be the true test of how the elections were and whether the election-related violence many envisioned actually takes place." (Miami Herald)

Other reports, however, have given the elections a far more positive gloss:

"If all goes well, it will be first time in Haiti's rocky political history that three democratic elections have been held in succession without interruption by fraud or armed rebellion." (Reuters)

Another report was unqualified in its praise of October 25, marveling at the "large" and "robust" turnout on election day:

"In Port-au-Prince, people stood in long lines outside polling stations, a sight unseen in Haiti in more than a decade." (AFP)

In fact, Haitian voters have usually stood in much longer long lines outside polling stations, including the Presidential elections of December 1990, May 2000 and February 2006. All three elections had turnouts of around 60%. This time around, the long lines seen outside polling stations were more often than not long lines of mandataires, not voters. “Party representatives ('mandataires') and observers will undeniably go down in history as having been the major voters in the 2015 elections,” notes Le Nouvelliste’s Frantz Duval.

OCID and the OAS are estimating turnout at 30% nationwide, while the RNDDH-led coaltion has estimated 25%. This is an appalling turnout - by both national and international standards - for such a crucial election. Turnout for October 25 was better than August 9 in all likelihood, yet it was still probably the second-lowest turnout in a Presidential election in all of the Western Hemisphere. (The lowest being Haiti's 2010 Presidential contest, with 23%.)

In short, what the skeleton crew of international journalists covering Haiti's election have failed to report is how the looming example of August 9 kept many Haitians from freely exercising their voting rights on October 25.

Here’s the international coverage of the October 25 election so far:

Patience, calm urged as votes counted in Haiti (Miami Herald)

No violence as Haiti holds elections (BBC)

Polls in landmark Haiti elections close after no big snags (Reuters)

Polarized Haiti votes in presidential election (AP)

Haiti hails presidential vote without violence (AFP)

En Haïti, l’« exploit » d’élections générales sans violences (Le Monde)

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