One year after the tragedy of a presidential assassination, it is clearer than ever that respect for elections – their processes, their results – is the key determinant of Haiti’s future.
Haiti does have the machinery to hold valid elections. In its public discourse, it agrees on their necessity. The masses, even as their turnout wanes because of the poor results, see no alternative.
The assassination can be understood as the most flagrant affront to elections in the last thirty-five years, although there have been other assaults that vie for the title. For however poor a president he may have been, Jovenel Moise was indubitably the winner of not one, but two elections – one of which was discarded in the vain hope that the population would change its mind.
As Moise’s misrule wore on, much of the political class, including many who knew better, spouted the theory that his term was only four years, although the constitution plainly sets it at five. For six months preceding the assassination, they mischievously pounded away decrying Moise as illegally in office. To what extent did this delegitimation spawn the assassination? And what was the point? With already four years served, what difference would a fifth make?
There’s another country that also canceled its president with one year left to serve – Ukraine. That’s another country where powerful forces disdained the results of elections. Pray that the outcome for Haiti is not as disastrous as it is there.
Haiti’s history for the past thirty-five years can be seen as the struggle between the promoters and the destructors of elections, with the nuance that these are sometimes the same people. Each time an election was destroyed, Haiti has found a way, on its own or with foreign help, to pick up the fallen standard and vote again. And incrementally, with Jacques Bernard’s creation of the Tabulation Center and other technical advances, it has upgraded the machinery. Witness the vitality of our organization’s grassroots Women Candidates’ Network – it’s a sign that the middle class and the masses still place their hope in elections.
The current struggle between two power-seekers and their gangs is a reprise of many others that have occurred over those thirty-five years. Between the Jovenel debacle and this current feud, it has resulted in elections being delayed longer than any other time since the 1987 constitution was voted. Amidst the gang violence and the fear that one side would pack the electoral commission, progress toward elections is glacial. Twice, though, during those thirty-five years the arrival of foreign peacekeepers has restored electoral results or made possible new elections. During the last peacekeepers’ sojourn of thirteen years, Haiti held nine elections; since they have left, none. While they were there, four presidents peacefully passed on the sash; after they left, the president was assassinated. It would be far, far better if the Haitians overcame their own differences and held their own elections without outside interference. But how long should the people of Haiti wait to exercise their right to shape their government? How much misery should they endure? How many refugees will they generate? The costs of remaining mired in pointless factional deadlock – to Haiti, to the United States – are too great to be borne much longer.