Campaigning for Haiti’s rescheduled elections set for November 20 officially reopened Thursday last week. But there are growing doubts about whether the elections will happen on the announced date. The southern region remains in the throes of a humanitarian crisis after the country was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew and Jocelerme Privert’s interim administration is struggling to complete repairs to roads and voting centers on time. The Privert government has come under fire politically post-Matthew, assailed for its handling of the relief effort, the presence of Dominican troops and the timing of the elections. Political parties, candidates and local officials, meanwhile, have all been accused of distributing aid in a partisan manner.
Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) President Léopold Berlanger wrote to President Privert on October 27 saying that elections were possible on November 20 only if, in the next ten days, the government repaired damages at 280 voting centers, made passable roads leading to another 161 voting centers and distributed new Cartes d’identification nationale (CIN) to voters who lost them during the hurricane. Berlanger also asked the Privert government to work with local authorities to vacate approximately 40 public establishments currently used as shelters for the displaced. CEP member Jean Simon Saint-Hubert admitted to having some doubts about elections occurring as scheduled, but stated that missing the November 20 date would place the country in “an extremely difficult situation.”
CEP Executive Director Uder Antoine later downplayed the scale of the damage to Haiti’s election infrastructure and expressed confidence that elections would occur on November 20, a date he called “non-negotiable.” “What we are talking about are minor renovations. We are not asking for the schools to be put back to how they were but for a minimum to be put in place to facilitate the electoral process,” Antoine told the Miami Herald on November 2. “A lot of progress has been made.” The CEP executive director said that 45 voting centers were completely destroyed and 43 were being used as shelters. Another 53 voting centers remain inaccessible, down from 175 immediately after the storm, according to Antoine. CEP officials had previously reported on October 21 that an estimated 300 of the 998 public buildings intended to serve as voting centers had been damaged or completely destroyed.
In response to the CEP’s difficult situation, the U.S. Embassy announced on October 31 that it would provide financial support to the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to rehabilitate voting centers and roads in the affected regions of southwestern Haiti. A UNOPS analysis of the damage to Haiti’s electoral infrastructure found that at least 214 of 1,534 voting centers had been damaged, with the worst damage concentrated in the departments of south. The report found that 86% of voting centers in the Grand’Anse, 71% in the Sud and 55% in Nippes were unusable, as of October 14. The U.S. move partly reversed its July decision to cut funding to Haiti’s elections in protest over the rerunning of the October 25 presidential vote.
The CEP had announced on October 14 that presidential and second-round legislative elections would be held on November 20, and a second-round presidential election, if necessary, on January 29 2017. The November date appears to be a compromise: political parties wanted elections as early as October 30 while the Core Group powers wanted a date in late November or early December. The CEP also announced that the electoral campaign would be reopened from November 7 to November 18. On October 31, the CEP moved up the restart of campaigning to November 3.
The international community had reacted positively the CEP’s new schedule. On October 15, the Core Group released a statement that welcomed “the resolve demonstrated by the Haitian political actors to conclude the electoral cycle” and encouraged “all actors to implement the new calendar, thereby enabling the return to full Constitutional order.” UN independent human right expert Gustavo Gallon said on October 25 that elections would be an “enormous challenge” but that he hoped they would be held on November 20 “with no surprises.” During his week-long visit to Haiti, Gallon remarked upon the prestige enjoyed by the new CEP and the existence of “a calmer political climate than last year.” He warned that Haitians in the hurricane-affected areas could have difficulties voting due to the loss of identification cards or limited access to polling places. Gallon also pointed to the failure of the Martelly government to hold elections from 2011 to 2015 as a factor complicating the political situation.
The Réseau National pour la Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) criticized the politicization of humanitarian aid post-Matthew in a report released on October 21. Parties and candidates frequently gave out aid in a partisan and disorderly manner, according to the report. PHTK, LAPEH and Fanmi Lavalas were identified as the most visible political parties on the ground engaging in this practice, which RNDDH called on the CEP to formally prohibit. Interim President Privert’s office issued a statement on October 17 reporting that it had received “persistent and preoccupying information” that humanitarian aid was being distributed on “a political or partisan basis.” The statement reminded public officials, especially local elected officials and directors of the civil protection agency, of their duty to serve those affected in a fair manner and “strongly condemned” the misappropriation of aid. The Ministry of Interior had been ordered to open investigations into such cases, the President’s statement said.
International NGOs distributing humanitarian aid were also guilty of favouring their staff members’ family and friends of over the rest of the population, according to RNDDH. Senate candidate and former paramilitary leader Guy Philippe took charge of distributing an aid container in Pestel, which he received through “a connection” with the U.S.-based NGO Food for the Poor. Philippe also received aid from Jovenel Moise’s campaign, according to the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles. The mayor of Pestel denounced the use of aid for political ends, complaining that while candidates had access to humanitarian supplies municipalities were struggling to find resources to respond to the catastrophe.
On October 25, Le Nouvelliste reported that deputies, senators and other government officials had taken over of one of the government’s two aid depots, withdrawing supplies without any supervision or control from either the Civil Protection Agency or the Ministry of Interior. “This is very frustrating for us, because parallel to what we are doing to help the victims, we know part of the aid is being misappropriated by parliamentarians,” a high official from the Civil Protection Agency told Le Nouvelliste. In the Senate, the pro-Martelly minority bloc, led by Youri Latortue, unsucessfully attempted to impeach Interior Minister Anick Joseph François over his mishandling of the aid effort.
Frustrations with the aid effort have led some people in affected areas to set up roadblocks or even attack and loot convoys. Last week, police and UN troops opened fire on a crowd during an aid distribution in Dame-Marie, killing one adolescent girl and injuring 3 other people. In Les Cayes, a similar incident caused the death of another adolescent on November 1.
Despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis, several parties called for the election calendar to be modified to allow for a transfer of power by February 7. Fanmi Lavalas mobilized thousands of its supporters in Port-au-Prince on October 24 to demand that the second round of presidential elections be held earlier than January 29. Fanmi Lavalas Senator Nenel Cassy warned that delays in the election may be a strategy to prevent the party’s candidate Maryse Narcisse from winning the presidency. Representatives of Pitit Dessalines and Vérité likewise called for a change of election dates in order to have an elected president in place by February 7.
The involvement of Dominican troops in the post-Matthew aid effort caused an uproar in Haiti. The soldiers entered Haitian territory while protecting a 500-truck aid convoy sent by the Dominican government. On October 12, the Parliament’s Justice and Security commission called for the departure of the Dominican soldiers within 24 hours and criticized the Privert government for initially denying their presence. The Dominican ambassador responded with a statement denouncing rumours that the soldiers’ presence constituted a disguised military invasion. “It is very regrettable that, on both sides of the island, there still exists people who continue to sell the Trojan Horse fantasy to intimidate and produce fear in their respective populations.” On October 15, the Dominican Foreign Minister announced that the military had completed its mission and withdrawn its troops.
The judges of the Cour de Cassation, Haiti’s highest judicial authority, seized on the uproar over Dominican troops to call for the replacement of provisional President Jocelerme Privert. Addressing both the Haitian people and the international community in an October 18 statement, the high court denounced the Privert government as “illegitimate and illegal.” The judges' statement called the November 20 election date an “odious project” that would disenfranchise many Haitians in south and risked plunging the country into even deeper chaos. Complaining of their marginalization in the process of creating a transitional government, the judges called for the application of article 149 of the 1987 Constitution, which would place the court’s president Jules Cantave in the presidency.
The Cour de Cassation did not find much support for its position. Many parliamentarians denounced the judges’ statement, ridiculing their “nostalgia” for previous times (1990, 2004-2006) when heads of the Cour de Cassation had served as interim presidents. According to one parliamentarian, Jules Cantave is the cousin of the virulently anti-Privert Senator Carl Murat Cantave, a claim the Senator has denied. RNDDH’s executive director Pierre Espérance rejected the motion of the judges, as did Vérité coordinator Génard Joseph. Pitit Dessalines’ Biron Odigé called the judges’ move a coup attempt intended to prevent the holding of elections.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean was quick to clarify that the judges did not have the support of the U.S. government. “We find there is enough instability in the country and no one needs to add to this instability,” Mulrean told Le Nouvelliste the next day. In July 2016, the six judges had travelled to Washington DC to lobby American policy makers, calling for U.S. support for an attempt to make Jules Cantave provisional president. Some officials indicated at the time that they were sympathetic to the judges’ perspective. The junket was organized by the Boulos family-funded Haiti Democracy Project, which was close to the Martelly government.
On October 13, the UN Security Council renewed the peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH’s mandate for an additional six months. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had called for an extension, pointing to the unresolved electoral crisis.