Haiti Breaks Political Deadlock, But Fight Over Verification Looms

After weeks of wrangling between President Privert and parliamentarians, Haiti suddenly broke out of political deadlock this week, appointing a new prime minister and a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). With the Privert government rapidly approaching the halfway mark of its 120-day mandate, however, the impossibility of organizing elections by April 24 as per the February 5 political agreement is increasingly evident. The international community nonetheless continues to push for quick elections with no verification commission, against the wishes of opposition parties and much of civil society.

Enex Jean-Charles was approved as interim Prime Minister by parliament on March 24, during a marathon session of the National Assembly that stretched into the early hours of the next morning. Jean-Charles’s nomination as Prime Minister by provisional President Jocelerme Privert came just two days after the Chamber of Deputies rejected his first choice, economist Fritz Jean, on March 20, whom pro-Martelly legislators accused of being too close to Lavalas. 

After Jean’s rejection, both Privert and parliamentarians were under heavy pressure from the Core Group to quickly find a replacement. Sandra Honoré, UN Special Representative for the Secretary General, met with Privert the day after Jean’s rejection. Haiti is under intense financial pressure, due in part to the loss of PetroCaribe financing as Venezuela struggles with its own economic troubles. Allegations of corruption and mismanagement of PetroCaribe funds have spurred calls for an audit of Haitian government finances under former President Martelly. Despite a worsening economic outlook and a severe drought, Haiti’s major aid donors have cut all non-humanitarian aid, pending a completion of the electoral process.

Jean-Charles, a university professor and career civil servant, is known for being a quiet, behind-the-scenes operator. He has served as presidential advisor to both Michel Martelly and René Préval, as well as holding the post of secretary-general of the Council of Ministers in the interim government of Boniface Alexandre (2004-2006).

To restart the electoral process, Jean-Charles pledged to implement the “technical recommendations” of the Evaluation Commission, but was silent on the possibility of a verification commission to examine electoral fraud. The new prime minister was also careful to avoid committing his government to the February 5 political accord’s electoral timetable. “We’ll do all we can to have a new elected president as soon as we possibly can,” Prime Minister Jean-Charles told Reuters shortly after he was approved by parliament. “But it will be up to the new electoral council, following a technical assessment of what remains to be done, to determine whether the April 24 deadline can be met or not.”

The question of a verification commission to address fraud allegations looms for the new government. During the parliamentary session confirming Enex Jean-Charles, many deputies insisted that no second round could be held without first carrying out an investigation into fraud. “We need to know what happened in these elections. We need to know who is in the second round,” Fanmi Lavalas deputy Bertrand Sinal told Jean-Charles. While the Prime Minister was non-committal, Privert’s chief of staff Jean Max Bellerive told journalists on March 30 that a verification of the October 25 vote was “indispensible” for re-establishing popular trust in the voting process. Bellerive added that it was impossible for the government to respect the agreement’s tentative electoral calendar.

The international community, however, continues to call for respect of the accord’s timetable and to oppose a verification. In a March 26 statement “welcoming” Enex Jean-Charles’ confirmation by parliament, the Core Group called on Haiti’s political actors “to redouble their efforts to ensure the implementation of the 5 February Agreement.” Taking an even stronger stance, U.S. ambassador Peter Mulrean explicitly opposed a verification commission, warning that it would unduly delay the second round and could be manipulated by ill-intentioned individuals. 

The first order of business for Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles’s government was the inauguration of a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The list of nine members selected to serve on the electoral council was officially announced over two weeks ago, but the creation of the council was delayed by the conflict over the choice of prime minister. The formation of the CEP was finalized on March 30.

The new CEP members are Marie Frantz Joachim (women’s sector), Carlos Hercule (Catholic Church), Jean Simon Saint-Hubert (human rights sector), Léopold Berlanger  (media), Marie Hérolle Michel (private sector), Dorcély Josette (trade unions), Kenson Polynice (peasants’ and vodou sector), Frinel Joseph (Protestant denominations), and Bernard Jean Lucien (university sector). This final list respects the 30% quota for women’s representation, as specified by the Constitution and the Electoral Decree.

There is a near-consensus in Haiti that the political accord’s April 24 date for elections is now unrealistic. Rosny Desroches, of the NDI-funded observation group OCID, was categorical: “There isn’t any possibility of those electoral races happening on the date set out in the February 5 accord.” OPL’s Sauveur Pierre-Étienne was likewise very skeptical that elections could be organized in less than one month. André Michel (Jistis) and Moise Jean-Charles (Pitit Dessalines) have argued that the political accord must be renegotiated.

Even politicians close to Martelly, such as Chamber of Deputies president Cholzer Chancy and Daniel Supplice, are no longer insisting on a strict adherence to the election dates of the political accord. A PHTK spokesman said his party hoped elections could still be organized for April 24, but that Jovenel Moïse would no longer launch his campaign on March 24, as announced previously. Jovenel Moise and his supporters had previously insisted that elections be held on April 24 as called for by the accord. Repons Payizan (Peasant’s Response) and Viktwa (Victory) of the Consortium political coalition led by ex-paramilitary Guy Philippe, had pushed Privert to stick to the timeline outlined in the February accord by holding the presidential elections on April 24 with the final results announced by May 14.

Jean Hector Anacasis of Jude Célestin’s LAPEH party, meanwhile, stated that his political formation hoped for elections to be held quickly, but that it was ready for any eventuality. Proving that Haitian politics makes for strange bedfellows, Anacasis had previously threatened on March 15 to ally with PHTK in order to force Privert to hold elections on April 24, indicating that LAPEH is perhaps not entirely comfortable with what an investigation into fraud could reveal.

Sandra Honoré, Special Representative for the UN Secretary General, recognized in a March 23 press conference that the accord called for an “evaluation of the steps already accomplished” in the electoral process and that a verification commission was demanded by many political actors as well as various sectors of Haitian civil society. President Privert was holding consultations on the subject of a verification commission, Honoré reported, though she added that the UN’s opinion was that the “irregularities were not sufficient to invalidate the electoral process.” Honoré said the UN was awaiting details on the shape of the verification process and the impact it would have on the continuation of the halted elections.

Honoré’s apparent openness to a verification commission was a stark contrast to the message delivered earlier by the main international players in Haiti at the UN Security Council meeting on March 17. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, David Pressman, accused Haitian observers and opposition parties of spreading “a narrative ... of widespread fraud in the electoral process,” and thereby denying “the Haitian people the opportunity to have their voices heard through a democratically elected Government.” “That narrative does the Haitian people a real disservice. It was not just unhelpful but harmful,” Pressman said, adding that the U.S. had seen no proof of widespread fraud.

The representatives of the U.S., France, the European Union and the Group of Friends of Haiti (which, in addition to the United States and France, includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru) all insisted on going ahead with elections on April 24 based on the current contested results. A confidential source confided to Le Nouvelliste that a fear of embarrassment was one of the EU’s motives for opposing a verification of the vote: “It would tend to discredit the position of the EU on the last elections.”

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