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The American Prospect: Tapped Blog: Holding Haiti Accountable

December 8, 2010
In The News

by Sam Petulla

Last weekend's presidential election in Haiti has proved to be a political disaster for a nation still reeling from the devastation of this year's earthquake, a cholera epidemic, and last year's disputed Senate elections. Despite repeated calls by Rep. Maxine Waters, Sen. Richard Lugar, and countless editorial pages for elections to be postponed in order to deal with logistical concerns, the United States, the U.N., and the Organization of American States (OAS) -- the organization largely responsible for overseeing election logistics -- pushed to hold them anyway. They maintained that all was well within the country: that voter registration was proceeding normally, that the more than a million Haitians living in tent cities would get a chance to vote, and that all political parties were legitimately registered. In fact, this turned out not to be the case, and the fiasco that's resulted should surprise no one.

Two months ago, I spoke with Albert Ramdin, the assistant secretary general of the OAS. "I think the technical process is going fine," he said. "I must say that the political climate surrounding the candidates has been relatively calm." The OAS' reassuring rhetoric hardly matched the reality that played out on the ground Sunday, when throngs of people took to the streets to protest an election that featured thousands of missing voter credentials, voter intimidation, poll centers closed during operating hours, and possible ballot stuffing. The results have yet to be certified.

Ramdin assured that the elections were proceeding justly because the Haitian election council, which chooses the candidates put on the ballot, had decided that all candidates were properly registered and legal. But the election council was never legitimate in the first place. According to the constitution, it is supposed to be an independent council, but the election council that oversaw this Sunday's elections was handpicked by Réné Préval, Haiti's most recent president. It barred the Lavalas Party -- arguably the country's largest -- from running (the leader of the party, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has been in exile in South Africa since 2004). Lavalas candidates were forced to run as independents -- without the Lavalas Party's stamped backing, organizational support, or campaigning.

What we're seeing now -- with 12 of the 19 presidential candidates calling the election a farce, and OAS declaring the elections valid despite in the same breath admitting that 56 polling stations "experienced failure" -- is the sad but inevitable result of the international community failing to hold the country to the same standards of integrity as it holds the thousands of relief organizations operating inside of it. Indeed, when it comes to democracy in Haiti, "good enough" seems to be what's expected. Haiti continues to be an NGO Republic -- with thousands of independent nonprofit organizations operating inside that have little interaction with and do not support the government. Especially given the amount of aid money at play in the country right now, it behooves the international community to follow the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Rep. Water's examples and denounce the election results and wait until all parties are included and voting infrastructure is in place to hold another one. Otherwise, the divide between Haitians and everyone else will persist, and if there was ever a time to turn that around, it is now.

(Colin Fleming contributed reporting for this post)