“Haiti’s 2006 Elections: What’s Been Done and What Remains.”

Click here for photos of the event


Thursday, May 25, 2006, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. | Somers Room, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. 

Amb. Ernest H. Preeg, chairman of the Haiti Democracy Project, convened the meeting.

Mark L. Schneider, vice-president of the International Crisis Group and former director of the Peace Corps, outlined the group’s findings and recommendations regarding elections in its recent report.

Jacques Bernard, director of the Provisional Electoral Council of Haiti, recounted the measures taken to make the second round a success after his return under difficult circumstances.

As well, he detailed the problems that had left one department still unrepresented in the parliament and the measures to resolve the issue. Finally, he analyzed the preparation of local elections.

Reviewing the results of the parliamentary elections, Mr. Bernard noted a good distribution among parties, with none having the majority.

Looking ahead to the unfinished parliamentary races and local elections, he said that the electoral commission had simply run out of money. He was engaged in locating the foreign funds necessary for completing the elections.

While acknowledging that the permanent electoral commission would arise from assemblies of local delegates, to be elected in the local elections, he said that the mechanism was cumbersome and unworkable. Since 1987, when the constitution was promulgated, there had been no permanent council and there probably would not be without a change in the constitution. Many of those elected at the local level would be illiterate. To these would fall the task of choosing a permanent electoral council for Haiti.

Since the 1980s, there had been no electoral council with true legitimacy. Since then, only one president, René Préval, had finished his term. Staffing the local government meant putting some nine thousand people on the state?s payroll. Haiti could not pay for this, nor would its foreign supporters foot the bill. Haiti could not apply the constitution as written because of its complexity. He would propose amendments to parliament.

So he did propose going ahead with the municipal elections and remaining parliamentary ones, but there should be a constitutional amendment dealing with the local level.

After thirty years of dictatorship in 1987, the framers of the constitution understandably made it hard to amend. Yet going by the book, in the next ten years, Haiti would have sixteen elections. These would cost $300 million. Neither Haiti nor the international community could afford that. Haiti needed to look seriously at the structure and schedule mandated by the constitution and consider its feasibility. The Haitians would not vote sixteen times. The country could not afford so many elections.

In the last election, Mr. Bernard said, the identification card was successful and, with the Organization of American States, they registered 3.5 million voters. Recently, the government of Haiti decided to transfer administration of the ID card to the justice ministry. This particular ministry happened to be the worst-run in Haiti. Why take it away from the electoral council, where the machinery was in place? The council could resume registering Monday morning. Haiti still had one million voting-age citizens left to register. It should be kept within the electoral council, at the level of the communal electoral bureau (BEC). Many South American countries did it this way.

The electoral council could not be kept in permanent session, and he as the director of the organization had already had to lay off thousands of workers. Haiti nevertheless needed to maintain the machine for future elections, and bring in at the appropriate time the nine members of a new council.

Amb. Raymond Joseph of Haiti commended Mr. Bernard for a job well done.

Mr. Bernard reiterated that he wanted to see the municipal elections done as soon as possible. He did not know the status of the $4 million that the United States was making available for this purpose. He said that Haiti was looking to other donors as well to make up the difference. He was greatly concerned that if mayors could not be elected, they would be appointed by the central government without local buy-in.

Prof. Edward Joseph, the head of the International Foundation for Election Systems? observation mission in Haiti, urged that the municipal and third-round parliamentary elections be held. He believed they needed to be combined so as to relieve the necessity of the Haitians walking long distances to vote too many times. He also agreed on the focus on maintaining the electoral machinery. The state of that machinery had been a key problem until Mr. Bernard came on last October.

He asked, however, if the local elections were postponed for a constitutional amendment, what would be the competence of the ASECs and CASECs (local and communal assemblies)? Who would fulfill these functions?

Mr. Bernard said that the mayor would be the mayor of a commune. There would be three mayors, a main one and two associates. Frankly, three mayors were enough to run a commune. The ASEC was there to assist. It was true that the ASECs also went to the assemblies to elect the permanent electoral council. Such assemblies had never existed in reality at the time of the writing of the constitution. There was no necessity to add 7,500 to 9,000 government employees.

Ambassador Joseph said that the formulation in the constitution of the ASECs and CASECs was a result of the dictatorship. At that time, the rural police had become the bete noir. The framers created a cumbersome structure against a revival of that dictatorship. Before, there had been 4,500 rural police. In 1990, they and the army actually provided security for the election. They were both abolished. People went overboard because of the abuses of these police and created a monster.

Kim Mahling-Clark of Creative Associates noted that turnout declined in the second round, and did so more in Port-au-Prince than up-country. Why was that?

Mr. Bernard said that Port-au-Prince was big and impersonal. In the provinces, the deputies were known personally. So people went out and voted for them. He had to confess that he personally cast a blank ballot for his deputy, because he had no idea who he was.

The turnout for the second round was lower also because there were simply fewer candidates. The followers of the many who lost in the first round stayed home. Nevertheless, the turnout was 31 percent, as against 63 percent in the first round. Before that, the second-round turnout had always been 15 or 16 percent. This was the highest in history. It was also the first time the candidates could challenge the results.

Ambassador Joseph recalled that the Haitian government had wanted to have the municipal elections first, to garner a bigger turnout, and those elections could have eliminated quite a number of minor presidential aspirants if they saw their party thrashed at the municipal level.

Mr. Bernard noted that the results were published on the Internet. Certain people who had been claiming to speak “for Haiti” got 0.1 percent, and these were published in real time.

James Morrell of the Haiti Democracy Project said that in each precinct, poll workers, observers, and party poll watchers each kept their own counts independently. Given this redundancy, should it not be possible to quickly get to the bottom of accusations of fraud because of the multiplicity of independent tallies?

Mr. Bernard noted that at the tabulation center, the tallies were entered independently and the server was programed not to accept them unless they matched.

If there was not a match, it went to quality control. In fact, most challenges were resolved and the candidates accepted the count. Haiti had a good model in the multiplicity of control.

Responding to a question, Mr. Bernard said that he had not discussed the election with President Préval, only indirectly with a few of his associates. He noted that the president in his inaugural speech had emphasized the municipal elections and decentralization.

On the subject of Préval, Ambassador Joseph recalled that at his public meeting in Washington with over a thousand members of the Haitian-American community he had repudiated supporters of Aristide from Florida who were attempting to make an issue of Jacques Bernard?s name. These supporters had recently visited South Africa.

James Morrell recalled that at Mr. Bernard?s last seminar with the Haiti Democracy Project in February there had been considerable suspense as to whether he would return to finish the elections. Did any of the same suspense attend his return now?

Mr. Bernard said no. The good results of the second round had disarmed his critics and controversy over the elections had greatly eased.

John Merrill, who led our second-round observation in Port-au-Prince, gave a brief report.  Click here for a previous version. Merrill is director of Western Hemisphere transnational policy for the secretary of defense.

Also Kathie Scarrah, a Washington freelance reporter who observed and photographed the first round for us in the Nord-Est, narrated her slides.

Click here for slides of Jacques Bernard’s first seminar with the Haiti Democracy Project on February 27, 2006.

Partial list of organizations represented at the meeting:

  • State Department
  • Defense Department
  • Agency for International Development
  • Embassy of Haiti
  • Embassy of Dominican Republic
  • Creative Associates
  • Haiti Democracy Project
  • Heritage Foundation
  • International Crisis Group
  • International Foundation for Election Systems
  • International Republican Institute
  • National Democratic Institute
  • Organization of American States
  • U.N. Foundation
  • U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • World Vision
  • Open Society Institute