Haiti's presidential election
Sweet success for Micky
by P.B. | PORT-AU-PRINCE
AFTER weeks of rumours and diplomatic pressure, Haiti’s electoral council announced yesterday that it had booted the ruling party’s man, Jude Celestin, from the presidential race, and replaced him with a popular political outsider, Michel Martelly (pictured). The delayed run-off vote, now scheduled for March 20th, will pit Mr Martelly, formerly a wild-child musician known as Sweet Micky, against Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional scholar and former first lady who appeals to middle-class voters. The outcome of the election remains highly uncertain, since no public polls have yet been conducted on the new second-round matchup. Nonetheless, the decision has restored a modicum of calm and security to the country. “It’s a good day in Haiti again,” the United States ambassador, Kenneth Merten, said yesterday.
It was certainly a victory for American diplomacy. The United States had immediately criticised the preliminary results, released on December 7th, which gave Ms Manigat a solid lead and put Mr Celestin in the run-off by a slim 0.64% margin over Mr Martelly. Following the announcement, thousands of the singer’s supporters took to the streets in sometimes-violent protests. A mission from the Organisation of American States (OAS) was then allowed to review the tabulation process. Its report—which was leaked, possibly by the United States—found fraud among all the leading contenders, and suggested that, were the chicanery removed, Mr Martelly would have narrowly edged out Mr Celestin as the runner-up to Ms Manigat. The government of René Préval, which was accused of rigging the election, objected to the report’s methodology.
Yet the foreign pressure to dump Mr Celestin continued, especially from the United States, which put $14 million into the election. Last month, it suspended the visas of some members of the ruling party, INITE. Its ambassador to the UN implied that American aid might depend on the electoral council’s acceptance of the report. The coup de grace was a visit on January 30th from Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, who met the three leading contenders and Mr Preval. She told reporters, “We have made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations, and we would like to see those acted on.”
And so they were. Given the delays in announcing the result and the closeness of the electoral council’s five-to-three vote, many horses were likely traded in its back rooms this week. One may have been the legislative races, which INITE dominated: it won or advanced to the second round in 68 of 99 seats in the lower house, and all but one of 11 open Senate seats. The OAS report did not address the legislative results, and foreign leaders have not publicly criticised them.
That’s no small matter for the next president, be it Ms Manigat or Mr Martelly. Parliament approves and can oust the prime minister, and many ambitious policy proposals have withered amid executive-legislative deadlock—as Mr Preval, who dissolved the parliament in his first term, can attest. The next president will need strong legislative support to oversee the politically charged reconstruction from the country’s devastating earthquake last year, with its attendant issues of land rights and relocation. In addition, Mr Martelly has spoken sweepingly about jobs, education, and agriculture, while Ms Manigat has argued for reining in NGOs and phasing out the UN’s peacekeeping force.
A more immediate concern for the first-round winners was to shore up their legitimacy. Just 22% of the electorate turned out for the first round, and countless others were disenfranchised by fraud or disorganisation. Indeed, both Ms Manigat and Mr Martelly had called for a do-over election—until it appeared they would advance to the run-off. As for outside influence in the election, Mr Martelly argued yesterday that his inclusion in the second round was “not a gift of the international community” but an instance of foreigners standing with the Haitian people. Many Haitians are not so sure: Le Nouvelliste, a newspaper, called the revised results “the end of the illusion of sovereignty”, echoing a widespread sentiment that they reflect, mostly, their government buckling to international pressure. The country’s longstanding tension between its desire for sovereignty and its need for outside assistance will not be resolved anytime soon.
Reprinted from The Economist Magazine, Friday, February 4, 2011.