After a slow start, Haiti’s elections are beginning to heat up. Preparations for the October 9 vote are on track, according to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and all of the major presidential candidates that participated in the annulled October 25 election are again in the race. Sixteen Senate seats are also up for grabs. The US and other powerful members of the international community in Haiti have softened their criticisms of the decision to rerun the presidential race, but concerns about violence disrupting the electoral process have been raised by a high-profile arms seizure in Saint-Marc.
The CEP’s electoral preparations are advancing well and materials are arriving on time from Dubai. The CEP announced that political parties had registered 130,806 polling station representatives (mandataires) for the October 9 vote. Advance registration of mandataires was introduced to prevent a repetition of the problems that arose during the October 25 elections, when the previous CEP distributed 915,675 mandataire accreditations with very few controls. Lax safeguards allowed the huge number of accreditations to be illegally bought and sold and used to cast multiple votes, the Verification Commission found. The CEP also published electoral lists so that voters can verify which polling station they are assigned to one month before the elections as promised. The Haitian National Police announced that every single officer will be mobilized on October 9 to provide security.
While expressing a guarded optimism about the progress made, the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission called on the CEP to make public its evaluation of the electoral machinery. Pitit Dessalines’ presidential candidate Moise Jean-Charles, meanwhile, decried the possible influence of businessman Andy Apaid Jr. within the Tabulation Center. Jean-Charles alleged that Apaid, a vocal critic of Lavalas and civic opposition leader during the second Aristide government (2000-2004), was hired as a consultant by the CEP. Executive Director Uder Antoine replied that the electoral council has not signed any contract with Apaid. CEP President Léopold Berlanger has previously served on the board of directors of an NGO, Fondation Nouvelle Haiti, with Apaid.
American diplomats have adopted a more conciliatory tone since cutting off funding in response to the rerunning of the presidential race. US Ambassador Peter Mulrean welcomed Haiti’s decision to finance the elections itself, stating that having another country pay for elections is an “anomaly.” The OAS announced that it will send 130 observers for the October 9 elections, led by former Uruguayan Senator Juan Raul Ferreira. “Even though we never expressly accepted that the right decision was to do a redo, the OAS is there,” said Gerardo de Icaza, director of the hemispheric body’s department of electoral cooperation and observation. “We’re happy that at least a political crisis is being solved through a democratic way.” De Icaza said that the CEP was implementing some of its recommendations for improving the electoral process. The OAS has also offered statistical training for quicker preliminary election results. The OAS’s own statistical expertise, however, has been questioned due to its misleading use of “quick count” vote tallies in the previous rounds. The OAS has deployed 15 electoral observation missions to Haiti since 1990.
The EU withdrew its observers after the CEP accepted the Verification Commission’s recommendation to annul the October 25 presidential vote, but France signed an agreement with the OAS to contribute to their observation efforts in 2016. A recent report by the National Lawyers Guild, International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Haiti Support Group decried the “monumental failure” of international observers during the first two rounds in 2015 and called for the foreign monitors to report more honestly and objectively on October 9.
PHTK’s Jovenel Moise was one of the first presidential candidates to hit the campaign trail in anticipation of the October 9 vote, but was dogged by controversy early on. The Unité centrale de renseignements financiers (UCREF) released a partial report at the start of the campaign which suggested Moise was involved in money laundering, based on evidence of questionable financial dealings by his companies (Agritrans SA, Jomar Auto Parts and others). Then, Moise made a public appearance in Pestel (Grand’Anse) on August 27 with former paramilitary leader and Senate candidate Guy Philippe by his side. Philippe is wanted by US law enforcement on drug trafficking charges, and has repeatedly threatened the interim government with civil war. In addition, Philippe is suspected of involvement in a May 15 attack on the Les Cayes police commissariat. Human rights activist Pierre Esperance called the meeting “stunning,” “sad,” and “revolting.”
Moise dismissed the UCREF allegations as “purely political” and defended his appearance with Philippe. “I am campaigning and everyone understands what that means: we are here to charm everyone,” Moise said. “I didn't have a choice but to speak to him because I am currently seeking votes.” Former Prime Minister Evans Paul announced his support for the PHTK candidate, calling him the “authentic representative of the people.” Although Paul’s KID is close to PHTK, Paul explained that his party has not yet endorsed Moise’s candidacy.
Concerns about election-related violence were heightened by a cache of illegal arms seized by port authorities in Saint-Marc. On September 8, port inspectors found over 150 firearms and 30,000 rounds of ammunitions in an old school bus, which had been shipped to the Artibonite port from Miami and was registered under the name of Charles E. Durand. Minister of Security Himmler Rébu announced an investigation to determine who was the intended recipient and declared that smuggled arms represent a serious threat to the security and stability of the country. In January 2015, police officials estimated that there were 250,000 unregistered firearms in circulation in the country.
A number of political forces have aligned behind Jude Célestin’s presidential bid. The LAPEH candidate has the backing of one-half of the Group of Eight candidates: Eric Jean-Baptiste (MAS), Sauveur Pierre-Etienne (OPL), Mario Andresol (independent) and Steven Benoit (Konviksyon). At his campaign launch in Arcahaie on August 31, Célestin claimed he had been unfairly persecuted by the international community in the 2010 elections, calling on voters to redress this “injustice” on October 9. OPL’s Pierre-Etienne reminded the crowd that it was Célestin’s boycott of the January 24 elections that led to the Verification Commission and the rerun of the presidential race. On September 15, Célestin signed an accord with four parties (OPL, Vérité, Inite and ADEBHA) that officially sealed a political alliance. Vérité and Inite are closely linked to former President René Préval. Vérité’s candidate Jacky Lumarque was excluded from the presidential race by the previous CEP. Célestin also received the support of religious leaders of Haiti’s Vodou sector.
Fanmi Lavalas’ Maryse Narcisse kicked off her campaign on August 29 with a large march to Pétionville, accompanied by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Unlike in the 2015 elections, Aristide has been actively campaigning for Fanmi Lavalas, joining a caravan to Cap-Haitïen with Narcisse. The FL caravan was greeted by cheering crowds in Cabaret and Saint-Marc. In Gonaives, however, anti-Lavalas protesters from the neighborhood of Raboteau reportedly forced FL to cancel a planned public appearance. In Cap-Haitien, Aristide fell ill shortly before he was supposed to speak and taken to the hospital where he was treated for dehydration. Aristide was back on the campaign trail the next day, telling the press that there was “a lot of dirty money” and numerous “professional liars” tainting Haiti's presidential campaign.
Like Célestin, Pitit Dessalines’ Moise Jean-Charles also chose the city of Arcahaie for the launch of his presidential campaign on August 28. Jean-Charles is running as a left-leaning “renovating socialist” and has the support of Dumarsais Simeus, a wealthy Haitian-American businessman who attempted to run for president in 2006. His campaign may be hindered by the loss of campaign manager Daly Valet, who left to serve in the interim government. The former Senator and mayor of Milot is widely seen to be competing with Narcisse for the votes of the Lavalas base. When the Fanmi Lavalas caravan arrived in Cap-Haitien, some Pitit Dessalines supporters angered by the choice of Narcisse over Moise Jean-Charles demonstrated. “Where was Maryse Narcisse after the political events of February 2004, while Jean Charles was leading the resistance?” asked one of the protesters.
After the incidents in Gonaives and Cap Haitien provoked by Narcisse’s and Aristide’s tour, the CEP and Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles both warned political parties that disruptions and violence would not be tolerated during the campaign.