Although Carnival in Haiti is well underway, the political situation continues to give Haitians little to celebrate. Since elections were postponed indefinitely on January 22, tensions within the capital increased, several more members of the CEP resigned, a hotly contested international ‘special mission’ arrived, and Haiti’s outgoing President provoked yet another controversy.
President Martelly’s blatantly sexist Carnival song dominated the news over the weekend. The target of the Sweet Micky tune, titled “Bal Bannan nan” (Give her the banana), is well-known radio journalist Liliane Pierre-Paul. Radio Kiskeya, where Pierre-Paul works, was the target of an attack by unidentified gunmen, shortly after Martelly denounced the journalist and her radio station for its critical coverage of his regime. The crude and aggressive sexual innuendo of the song leaves little doubt as to Martelly’s sexist politics and is one in a series of his recent abuses and harassments directed at Haitian women.
After failing to push through the final round of elections on January 24, Martelly requested the OAS send a high-level mediation mission to help find a possible way out of the impasse. Headed by the Chair of the OAS Permanent Council Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, Ronald Sanders, the Special Mission was given the mandate of establishing a dialogue between all the main political representatives.
While the OAS has repeatedly insisted that it won't “interfere, meddle or mediate,” many observers inside and outside Haiti are suspicious of the regional organization. During the 2010-2011 elections that ultimately brought Martelly to power, the OAS helped imposed an internationally-backed solution. Former OAS head of mission Ricardo Seitenfus declared: “The OAS is part of the problem and cannot be associated with seeking a solution.”
When the OAS Special Mission arrived in Haiti on Sunday, January 31, thousands of Haitians took to the streets to denounce foreign interference in the electoral process. Hundreds had previously demonstrated on Friday to voice their opposition to OAS’s interference, chanting: “Aba OEA!” (Down with OAS). The Friday demonstrations were a direct response to Guy Philippe’s, a leader of the 2004 anti-Aristide coup, open calls to violence and his inflammatory assertions to “resist the ‘anarchists’ opposing the elections.”
Echoing this popular discontent, the Group of Eight (G8) condemned the OAS mission as external interference in Haiti’s internal affairs. The Group encouraged the Haitian people to continue their resistance and called for a total resignation of the CEP, Martelly’s departure and the establishment of a provisional government. Fanmi Lavalas also strongly reaffirmed that “the battle is not over. The electoral coup is still ongoing […] each department must assume its responsibility.”
The opposition-led anti-OAS protests followed government-engineered demonstrations on Thursday that saw hundreds of Tet Kale partisans rally in several cities. Accompanied by Sweet Micky tunes and brandishing posters of Martelly and Moise, demonstrators called for the completion of the second-round presidential elections and protesting against a transitional government. These orchestrated demonstrations aimed tip the balance of political forces in favour of Martelly as negotiations over how to proceed unfold.
This became clear in Martelly’s Thursday speech, when the President affirmed that if no solution is reached on time, he would have “no other choice” but “assume his Constitutional duty” and prolong his term. Although the Constitution clearly bars any extension of a President’s term, Martelly declared “this is not a choice that I have, but a duty that the Constitution demands and I will respect it.”
In the search for a solution to the deepening crisis, the Haitian Parliament suggested a possible way out of the electoral impasse: the current Prime Minister, Evans Paul, would resign and be replaced by a Prime Minister that all concerned parties could agree upon, a choice then validated by both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies in a National Assembly. When the President’s term expires at the end of this week, the Presidency would be left vacant and the consensus Prime Minister would assume the powers of the Executive. The interim government would be mandated to appoint an independent investigative commission to examine the 2015 elections for fraud, as well as organize a national conference to address deeper issues such as electoral reform. The agreement, however, remains tentative and Evans Paul has yet to resign.
The dissolution of the scandal-plagued CEP continued this past week, as council members Yolette Mengual and Pierre Louis Opont, the president of the CEP, resigned from the electoral council. These departures follow the earlier resignation of the CEP’s vice-president, Pierre Manigat Jr. With only three out of nine members still in office, little remains of the CEP, which no longer has the quorum necessary to publish results.
In response to these recent resignations, the Catholic Bishops called for an extraordinary plenary meeting and reiterated their calls to reach a solution viable for all political actors and Haitian citizens with respect for the fundamental rights of the human person.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) and the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (CEDH) issued on Friday, a joint statement calling on the President to “leave office within the period prescribed by the Constitution” and urging “all political parties to find an agreement as soon as possible leading to the holding of free, credible and peaceful elections in order to avoid a triple crisis: political, institutional, and security.” The statement urged on both Haitian actors and the international community to support a “verification of votes in the first round by an independent body” in order to “legitimize this process.”
International actors have expressed their impatience to see the electoral process completed. Despite their earlier opposition, U.S. officials seem to have admitted that some form of transitional government will be required, a position that had been earlier lost in translation. Following a ‘misunderstood’ Reuters’ interview with Kenneth Merten, the U.S. Embassy was quick to clarify that Merten did not use the words: ‘transitionary government’ or ‘transition.’ Reuters swiftly reacted to these linguistic and strategic clarifications, issuing an edited version of the initial article.
On Friday, the UN’s Security Council voiced their concern that “the delay in elections may undermine Haiti’s ability to address the security, economic and social challenges it faces.” They further encouraged all political actors “to come to an agreement by 7 February, providing a Haitian-led and owned road map for the swift conclusion of the current electoral cycle to allow the Haitian people the opportunity to vote for their elected representatives in a free, fair, inclusive and transparent contest.” The statement condemned all attempts to further destabilize the electoral process making no mention whatsoever of the serious irregularities and fraud that plagued the earlier elections.
In equally vague terms, France expressed their concern over the postponement of the elections, calling for all the parties to “find a compromise” and “conclude this final stage of the electoral process.” The statement released by the Spanish government echoed France’s position, adding that on the “basis of dialogue and consensus,” a new date can “quickly be found.” CARICOM also called on all actors to find “an urgent solution” to the current impasse. Finally, EU’s electoral mission (MOE EU) also called for “responsible dialogue […] in an attitude of non-violence.” There appears little, if any, willingness among international actors to confront the real reasons behind the postponement, namely fraud, corruption and manipulation of votes.