Congresswoman Waters Urges Secretary Kerry to Support Free, Fair and Democratic Elections in Haiti
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing deep concern about Haiti’s 2015 elections and the impact they will have on Haiti’s future if the Haitian people do not perceive them to be credible. According to the State Department, Secretary Kerry will be visiting Haiti tomorrow.
Congresswoman Waters’ letter urges Secretary Kerry to take all necessary and appropriate action to support free, fair and democratic elections in Haiti. The letter specifically calls on him to make a clear statement that the violence, fraud and voter intimidation witnessed in the first round of the elections should be thoroughly and independently investigated, that the individuals and parties responsible for the violence must be sanctioned, regardless of political party affiliation, and that the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) must make the reforms necessary to establish public trust. A copy of the letter was sent to Kenneth Merten, the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator.
During Congresswoman Waters’ thirteen terms in Congress, she has visited Haiti many times, and she has worked with her colleagues in Congress, State Department officials, Haitian political leaders, and Haitian civil society to promote political stability, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and economic and social development in Haiti. Following the 2010 earthquake, she introduced the Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act (H.R. 4573), which was passed and signed into law by the President.
The text of the Congresswoman’s letter follows (footnotes were included in the original):
Dear Secretary Kerry:
As you know, I am a strong supporter of Haiti, and I care deeply about the well-being of the Haitian people. I appreciate the ongoing efforts of the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide assistance to Haiti to improve health, education, nutrition, and economic development for the Haitian people.
As a supporter of Haiti, I respect Haiti’s sovereignty. Nevertheless, I am deeply concerned about Haiti’s 2015 elections and the impact they will have on Haiti’s future if the Haitian people do not perceive them to be credible. Therefore, as you undertake a trip to Haiti at this critical moment, I urge you to take all necessary and appropriate action to support free, fair and democratic elections in Haiti.
The voting in the August 9 first-round parliamentary elections was marred by massive irregularities, which set a troubling precedent for Haiti’s upcoming October 25 Presidential and second-round parliamentary elections. As you stated in your press conference with Prime Minister Evans Paul, it is “imperative” that these elections be successful. To make these elections successful, I believe it is imperative that the many problems noted in the first round of the elections be addressed, so that Haiti’s next government is legitimate and is perceived as legitimate.
Haiti’s first-round legislative elections on August 9 were characterized by disorder, delays and the closing of many polling stations due to violence and fraud. Turnout was extremely low, with less than 18% of registered voters participating nationwide. Nearly 25% of the votes cast have not been accounted for and were never counted. Political party representatives – sometimes posing as election observers – frequently attempted to influence or intimidate voters, stuff ballot boxes and violently disrupt voting, according to local observer groups. The European Union Observer Mission’s deputy head concluded that the disruptions and violence were consciously planned to influence the results. The election, in the words of one observer group, was “an affront to democratic principles.”
Despite an outcry from Haitian civil society and political parties, the CEP has not adequately remedied these glaring problems. Final results recently released by the CEP indicate that the vote will be rerun only in 24 of the country’s 119 constituencies. The CEP ruled that they would accept the votes from constituencies where at least 70% of the tally sheets were considered valid, a distressingly low threshold for acceptability, which brings into question the legitimacy of the candidates who will eventually take office.
Despite local observers reporting widespread violence and irregularities, the CEP only excluded 16 out of the nearly 2,000 candidates from the election due to their alleged involvement in election-day violence. These sanctions, however, are little more than a slap on the wrist; candidates found responsible for violence and disruption of the voting process should be prosecuted. The CEP also warned parties that further disruptions of the elections would not be tolerated and notably singled out two political parties allegedly close to President Michel Martelly -- Parti Haïtien Tet Kale (PHTK) and Bouclier -- as those most frequently responsible for irregularities and disruptions. However, the CEP announced no significant sanctions to penalize these parties. The failure of the CEP to take stronger action for blatant electoral violations that often rose to criminal offenses delivers a disturbing political lesson: in Haitian elections, crime pays.
The inability or unwillingness of the CEP to properly investigate and sanction parties and candidates responsible for election irregularities has seriously damaged the institution’s credibility. I urge you to send a clear message that electoral violence will not be tolerated.
Many political parties and Haitian civil society are now demanding, at a minimum, an impartial and independent investigation into the August 9 election irregularities. Many are calling for the resignation of the current CEP and the annulment of the entire first round. Thus far, United States officials in Haiti have refused to recognize the scale of the fraud and violence that affected the August 9 elections. Disregarding the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, U.S. officials continue to insist that incidents of violence and fraud were isolated and did not affect the overall electoral process.
President John Kennedy famously remarked, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Running transparently unfair elections, with the support of the international community, will leave many Haitians to once again conclude that they have no choice but to protest the elections and the consequent government through social disruption. Indeed, this is what happened in the political cycle of the past four years that began with controversial elections in 2010 and 2011 that brought President Martelly to power, and led to the current crisis where every elected office in the country is vacant save for ten Senate seats and the Presidency. Such disruption would threaten to severely limit the next government’s ability to govern and imperil United States’ past and future investments in Haiti’s reconstruction.
I call on you to make a clear statement that the violence, fraud and voter intimidation witnessed on August 9 should be thoroughly and independently investigated, that the individuals and parties responsible for the violence must be sanctioned, regardless of political party affiliation, and that the CEP must make the reforms necessary to establish public trust. The United States government should also state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements.
Member of Congress
1 Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, Conseil National d’Observation des Elections and Conseil Haïtien des Acteurs non Etatiques, “Rapport sur le premier tour des élections législatives partielles,” August 25, 2015; Justice and Peace Commission, “Twazyèm pozisyon Komisyon Jistis ak Lapè sou jounen vòt 9 dawou 2015 lan,” August 12, 2015; Platforme des Organisations Haïtiennes des Droits Humains, “Rapò preliminè sou dewoulman eleksyon 9 dawout 2015 nan peyi a,” August 13, 2015.
2 Louis-Joseph Olivier, “L’Union européenne fait des propositions pour améliorer le processus électoral,” Le Nouvelliste, August 25, 2015.
3 Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, Conseil National d’Observation des Elections and Conseil Haïtien des Acteurs non Etatiques, “Scrutin du 9 août 2015 : un accroc aux normes démocratiques !” August 10, 2015
4 Jake Johnston, “Fraud, Violence, and Protests Cloud Results of Haitian Election,” Vice News, September 6, 2015.
5 Ibid.; Conseil électoral provisoire, “Communiqué #51: Mise en Garde au Partis et Groupements Politiques,” August 24, 2015.
6 Remixon Guillaume, “Des partis politiques de tendances différentes, pour l’annulation des élections législatives,” Le Nouvelliste, September 7, 2015; Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, Conseil National d’Observation des Elections and Conseil Haïtien des Acteurs non Etatiques, “Observation du Processus électoral : Le RNDDH, le CNO et le CONHANE exigent l'évaluation du scrutin du 9 août 2015,” September 7, 2015.
7 At her last press conference on August 27, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela A. White stated: “I am happy to see that the first round of elections occurred, and that the outcome, while not perfect, was acceptable.” On September 9, Ambassador White released a series of Tweets reaffirming this position that the first-round legislative elections did not require major correctives: “We cannot go back, because that would be ‘lave men siye atè’,” (Literally, “to wash one’s hands and then dirty them on the ground.” This Haitian proverb can be translated as “Ending up back where we started.”) The Ambassador stated her opposition to calls for the resignation of the CEP or the creation of a transitional government and accused protestors criticizing the CEP of “causing disorder in the streets.”