Democratic Progress Remains Slow in Haiti

Report of the International Republican Institute

May 1998

Notwithstanding substantial international aid and attention, the Haitian government has made little progress on the road to democracy. Haiti's last prime minister, Rosny Smarth, resigned in June 1997 largely over the government's complicity in the electoral fraud committed during and after the April 6, 1997 partial Senate and local government elections. Absent a fully functioning government since June, Haiti has squandered the opportunity to use tens of millions of aid dollars earmarked for it by the international community.

It is the Haitian people themselves who suffer, demonstrating again that their political leaders have few incentives to interact with the constituencies they supposedly represent. In response, IRI continues its work at the local and national levels to create linkages between the elected and the electorate. Through townhall meetings and political dialogue opportunities, IRI helps Haitian democrats begin creating a demand for more responsive government. Community leaders, political activists, and other citizens are acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to work more productively with elected officials. And those officials, while initially reluctant to go before their constituencies, are beginning to see the IRI fora as an opportunity to make their case to the electorate.

Additionally, IRI is working with the Haitian democratic parties to bolster their capacity to participate more effectively in the country's political processes. Historically divided among themselves, IRI's program has led the majority of democratic parties to conclude they must "regroup" and unify if they are to have any chance of altering Haiti's present course.

In February, IRI convened a first ever plenary conference of nearly all political party leaders who currently are out of power. In addition to agreeing on the need to "regroup," the party leaders also reached consensus on other major themes, such as the imperative to create a nonpartisan, professional election commission, reform the electoral and political party laws, and strengthen the country's political institutions, including the parties.

The parties agreed to continue meeting, under IRI's auspices, to forge deeper consensus on the next steps toward building a democratic future. Progress in Haiti may seem slow, but for such an unsteady democracy, a few sure steps in the right direction are critical.

Progress in Haiti may seem slow, but for such an unsteady democracy, a few sure steps in the right direction are critical. 

Detail on the meetings

In January 1998, the International Republican Institute conducted three separate two-day

workshops with three different groupings of political parties in Haiti. IRI invited the parties to

send two representatives each to participate in the workshops, which were organized around

themes of Haiti's political structures, democracy and elections, democracy and governance, and

political parties in a democracy. The themes were chosen to provide specific substantive issues

about which everyone at the table would have something to contribute.

The participation was greatest from the parties out of power, less from those in

power the various Lavalas entitities. As a follow-up, IRI convened the party leaders on

February 12 to further discuss the issues addressed in the January workshops. The party leaders

each made a ten-minute presentation. At the end of the afternoon, the parties agreed to meet

again to continue this process of communication among themselves. At their request, IRI will

continue facilitating such encounters as well as other activities

At the February plenary, there was broad participation among the parties currently out of

power. No Lavalas representatives attended. All the major (and many of the minor) party

leaders attended, with the exception of Evans Paul, who was out of the country, and Victor

Benoit, who was giving a press conference during the morning hours. The latter two sent their


The IRI conceived its objective in these efforts as to help create and facilitate

mechanisms and opportunities for all the political parties to reengage in Haiti's political process.

--Information provided by Michael Zarin, deputy program director at IRI