The provisional president of Haiti, Jocelerme Privert, recently installed a Verification Commission in the midst of a political and electoral crisis. Privert was originally placed in power pursuant to an agreement on February 5, 2106 reached between outgoing president Michel Martelly and the two houses of parliament. His charge was to complete the electoral process begun in 2015. The agreement made no mention of a verification commission. The constitution reserves official evaluation of elections to an independent electoral commission. So the Verification Commission is widely decried as illegal and unconstitutional, notably by members of parliament, the Tet Kalé party (PHTK) formed by former president Martelly and its allies, and a part of the population. The Verification Commission’s scope paper was written by the opponents of the PHTK, notably the Pitit Dessalines party, Fanmi Lavalas, RNDDH (a human rights organization now involved in electoral politics), the Fusion party, and certain groups of citizens close to President Privert.
Members of the lower house of parliament grouped in the Majority Bloc are protesting President Privert’s decision to launch this commission in violation of the February 5, 2016 agreement. They want to assure that President Privert leaves power on May 14, 2016 as per the agreement. They would leave in place Prime Minister Enex Jean Charles to finish the electoral process. They say that President Privert wants to annul the elections, put the parliament out of business after May 9, and stay in power in a transitional regime for two years.
The PHTK and its allies have organized many street demonstrations to protest the formation of this commission and to urge President Privert to respect the February 5, 2016 agreement which he signed and from which he received his authority.
April 29, 2016. The provisional president Jocelerme Privert, accompanied by Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles, installed the Commission Indépendente d’Évaluation et de Vérification Électorale.
The scope of the commission is to:
- Elucidate the voting process by analysis of the signature sheets, voter lists, tally sheets, election returns, deficiency reports, incident reports, ballots and completed challenges.
- From among the decisions of the committees that ruled on challenges to the electoral results, evaluate all decisions that were objected to or formally contested and see if any should be revised in accordance with the law
- Verify the conformity of the voting operations and count with the provisions of the electoral decree of March 2015 and make the appropriate recommendations
- Recommend to the executive branch and the electoral commission the corrective actions to be implemented
The State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, Kenneth Merten, is in Haiti to investigate the state of the electoral process.
April 28, 2016. U.S. ambassador to Haiti Peter Mulrean and Kenneth Merten visit the Haitian parliament. They inquire about progress toward the election of a new president.
April 29, 2016. The president of the electoral commission, Léopold Berlanger, says that he does not have the authority to organize senatorial elections in October. He says his authority at this time is limited to completing the election begun in 2015 and finalizing the local elections.
By James Morrell, Haiti Democracy Project
(A one-time background piece to introduce the series)
The current provisional president of Haiti, Jocelerme Privert, is operating under an agreement of February 5, 2016 reached between outgoing president Michel Martelly and the two houses of the legislature. Under it the provisional president’s term would end on May 14. Presidential elections would be held by April 24 and the new president inaugurated on May 14.
Having missed the April 24 election deadline, the provisional president last week installed a Verification Commission which is to take a month to review the previous year’s elections, especially the first round of the presidential election held on October 25, 2015. That election was generally praised in Haiti until the announcement of the results showed that a political unknown, a protégé of President Martelly, was leading with 33 percent of the vote and three candidates loosely associated with the Lavalas tradition were trailing with 25 percent, 12 percent, and 8 percent of the votes respectively. Only the first two, with 33 and 25 percent, would go to the second round.
While cries of “massive fraud” by losing candidates were not new in Haiti, the breadth of the opposition to these results was unusual. It included the candidate with 25 percent who had succeeded in advancing to the second round, and so didn’t need annulment of the election to stay in. It also included political parties, well-reputed Haitian human-rights and electoral-observation organizations, and a wider swathe of civil society and the media than normal. However, other electoral observers found the election to be fair. A joint mission of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (founded by Jean-Claude Bajeux) and the civil-society initiative led by Rosny Deroches which deployed 1,830 observers found 97 percent of the polling places to be violence-free and an improvement over the previous election. The missions of the European Union and Organization of American States called the election free and fair. A joint mission of the U.S. National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and the Haiti Democracy Project with 208 observers found problems in the opening of polling stations in 32 percent of the cases but major problems with the vote in only 3 percent.
The provisional president, Jocelerme Privert, prophesized that the Verification Commission would put the front-runner with 33 percent of the vote back in fifth place. When criticized for this remark by former president Martelly on the grounds that the decision belonged to the electoral commission, not the president, he denied having said it. A well-known commentator, Michel Soukar, went on Métropole TV to call the Verification Commission nothing but a device for the elimination of the front-runner, Jovenel Moïse.
The provisional president did succeed in naming a new electoral commission to hold the contested election, headed by the well-regarded Léopold Berlanger, entrepreneur and former leader of a nationwide electoral-observation organization. Less is known about the other members of the commission; many lesser-known members of past commissions have been corrupt. Berlanger began by doubting whether the election could be held without the major factions having come to some sort of an understanding. But more recently he has insisted that the electoral commission must remain independent under the constitution. No decision of an outside body such as a presidential commission would be binding on it, although it could certainly take it into consideration.
A delicate structural problem was posed by the fact that the election that the Verification Commission would review and perhaps seek to overturn also comprised the legislature which was already seated and functioning. The electoral process was organic, with no difference in the way presidential and legislative ballots were treated. This helps to account for why the speaker of the lower house as described in Doré’s résumé denounced the Verification Commission and called on the provisional president to leave power on the date appointed.
Timeline of U.S. policy actions towards elections in Haiti (by Haiti Democracy Project)