New Report: Troubling Weaknesses in Electoral System Overshadow Return of Constitutional Rule in Haiti

Cross-posted from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti website.

On the eve of President-elect Jovenel Moïse’s inauguration, a new report by international legal observers argues that Haiti’s democratic institutions are suffering a profound crisis of confidence. Low turnout, voter disenfranchisement and lingering concerns about fraud raise troubling questions about the breadth of the incoming president’s mandate, according to the report, entitled Haiti's Unrepresentative Democracy: Disenfranchisement and Disillusionment in the November 20 Elections.

The report notes that despite many improvements in security and electoral administration over the 2015 elections, the 21 percent voter turnout represents the lowest participation rate for a national election in the Western Hemisphere since 1945. “Many Haitians did not vote, not because they did not want to, but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards, registering to vote and finding their names on outdated electoral lists,” said attorney Nicole Phillips, delegation leader and co-author of the report.


The report documents how many would-be voters were disenfranchised on November 20, due to pervasive errors on electoral lists, difficulties accessing identity cards, and lack of voter education. Haitian electoral authorities also failed to take adequate measures against fraudulent voting. Prior to the election, the head of the National Identification Office (ONI) admitted that 2.4 million activated but undistributed cards had gone missing, which opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.

A decade of elections marked by violence, vote-rigging, disenfranchisement, and repeated foreign interventions have dashed the high hopes of the post-Duvalier years and bred a deep disillusionment with democracy, according to the report. Paradoxically, falling participation rates have occurred alongside massive investments by the international community in Haiti’s electoral apparatus. Brian Concannon Jr., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), notes, “the millions spent by the United States and other Core Group countries on democracy promotion programs have produced an electoral system that is weaker, less trusted and more exclusionary than what came before.” 


The report also explains the lack of female political participation as another crisis. “Only four legislators out of 149 seats are women,” Phillips remarks. “With so few women candidates on the ballots, politics continue to reflect a man’s domain, as reflected in an even lower voter turnout for women (35.67 percent female voters, compared with 64.33 male).” The report notes that women’s and human rights organizations warn that this “catastrophic” lack of representation will have enormous consequences for Parliament; there will be no way of assuring that the needs and interests of women will be taken into account with such a small representation.

President Moïse’s swearing-in will mark a return to constitutional rule after a several-year long hiatus, but there are concerns that he will follow in the undemocratic footsteps of his predecessor. President Michel Martelly surrounded himself with figures tied to the former Duvalier dictatorship and drew criticism from human rights defenders for intimidating journalists and illegally imprisoning opposition political activists.


“With a majority in parliament, the temptation for President Moïse to run roughshod over any opposition will be great,” said Concannon. “But with the backing of only 9.6 percent of registered voters, the incoming president will face serious limits to his popular mandate.” President Moïse is under investigation for money laundering, and has proposed a number of controversial measures, including reviving the Haitian Army and launching ten agricultural free trade zones. The report also notes serious doubts about democratic credentials of many senators and deputies, who owe their seats more to the violence, disruptions and fraud of the 2015 elections that put them into office than to the will of Haitian voters.

The NLG-IADL report calls on the Haitian authorities to clean up electoral lists, eliminate electoral card trafficking, end impunity for electoral violence and fraud, and increase women’s participation in politics.

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