Haiti’s verification commission is finally up and running. But tensions have been raised by the work of verifying the vote, and the commission faces continued attacks on its legitimacy and neutrality. Opponents of the verification appear willing to use even military force to get their way. A police station in Les Cayes (Sud) was attacked by former soldiers linked to Guy Philippe, a former police commander, wanted drug trafficker and paramilitary leader, raising the specter of a coup d’état. The final report of the commission could help resolve the electoral crisis – or it could merely inflame it.
The Independent Verification and Evaluation Commission was inaugurated on April 29 and has up until the end of May to submit its report on the veracity of the electoral results. Efforts so far have concentrated on the October 25 presidential election. Commission President François Benoît announced that 3,235 tally sheets will be analyzed (with 2% error margin). The commission increased the sample size from 15% to 20% of all tally sheets, after its initial sample of 2,000 sheets was criticized as too small. RNNDH and Pitit Dessalines expressed dismay with this decision, claiming that all 13,675 tally sheets should be analyzed, not just a sample. The commission has yet to start work on the 175 complaints received about BCEN rulings concerning the legislative races.
Kenneth Merten, U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti, opposed the holding of a second round of the presidential elections with the five top candidates, a scenario held out by some as a possible solution to Haiti’s electoral crisis. Merten indicated that the U.S. government would support only those solutions in line with the Constitution. The Organisation of Americas States (OAS) is monitoring the work of the Verification Commission, with funding by the U.S.
On May 16, a group of armed men stormed the police commissariat in Les Cayes, provoking a shootout that left one attacker and one police officer dead, with several others injured. The assailants, who were dressed in military fatigues and appeared to be ex-FAdH soldiers, fled in pickup trucks after looting the policy armoury. Three other attackers died after one of their getaway vehicles crashed on the road heading west from Les Cayes. The government announced its intention to find those responsible for the attack, while the UN’s Sandra Honoré “condemned in the strongest terms” the attack.
The attack was allegedly organized by Guy Philippe, according to one of the captured paramilitaries interviewed by local media. The assailants had fled in the direction of Pestel, Philippe’s hometown. The leader of the 2004 paramilitary insurgency, who is running for Senate, denied any links with the attack and claimed he had only called for “civil disobedience” against an “illegitimate” regime, though in earlier declarations he clearly threatened to launch a “civil war.” In reaction to the interim authorities’ determination to investigate the Les Cayes, Philippe alleged that the attack was staged by President Privert and threatened to attack any force sent to Pestel by the interim authorities. Guy Philippe accused the government of seeking to use the verification process to eliminate Jovenel Moise from the presidential race and declared he was “100% in support” of the PHTK candidate.
On May 14, hundreds of supporters of PHTK took to the streets demanding the holding of the second round of elections based on the current, contested results. Parties in Guy Philippe’s political platform, Consortium, have been mobilizing their supporters for these demonstrations. May 14 was the date that, according to the February 5 political accord, was to mark the inauguration of Haiti’s new president. The UN Security Council expressed its “deep disappointment that Haitian actors failed to meet the election and inauguration deadlines agreed upon” and called “on all Haitian actors to ensure the prompt return to constitutional order.” The CEP has announced that it will publish the electoral calendar at the end of the month, when the verification commission has finished its work.
With provisional President Jocelerme Privert’s term coming to an end on June 14, some sectors of Haitian society are calling for a renewal of the existing political accord. In a press release, RNNDH welcomed the inauguration of the Independent Verification and Evaluation Commission, reminding of the necessity of “updating the deadlines of the February accord” in the course of “honest negotiations aimed at establishing a sustainable, constitutional government.”
The CEP warned candidates and political parties not to “seek to disrupt, influence and undermine the work of the BCEN (Bureau du Contentieux Électoral National) and the electoral Judges.” The BCEN is currently hearing complaints from candidates concerning the municipal elections. The press release, issued on May 10, is addressed to all “individuals who want to trouble the work of the Electoral Judges,” clearly stating that such actions are liable to legal charges under attempts of corruption. Between May 9 and May 11, the CEP distributed the certificates of the 70 mayors who were elected and have been approved by the BCEN in the 2015 elections.
Recent rumours of the dissolution of the Group of Eight (G8) further testify to the complexity of the political situation and inter-party tensions. Mathias Pierre, an advisor to Pitit Dessalines candidate Moise Jean-Charles, announced the dissolution of the G-8 in a tweet. But another G-8 member, Eric Jean-Baptiste, asserted that he did not sign any act officializing the Group’s dissolution.
On Friday, the President of the CEP, Léopold Berlanger; the Vice-President, Carlos Hercule; and the Secretary General, Marie-Frantz Joachim, left for the Dominican Republic in order to observe the neighbour’s elections, which were held on Sunday, with Danilo Medina elected as the president. The aim of this trip was to “appreciate the technological electoral advances made by the DR,” which used a full digitised voting system for the first time. The system, however, was not without its problems, as the events of the day proved.
Having exited the presidential palace, Michel Martelly appears ready to go back to being “Sweet Mickey,” the president of konpa. Martelly recently released a new music video (featuring one of his most notorious political collaborators, ‘Roro’ Nelson) and performed in Miami. Asked about the possibility of another presidential bid in five years, Martelly didn’t answer directly.