Stalemate over Haiti’s elections continues

Haiti’s president, Jovenal Moise, and his electoral council have proposed a timeline for elections that include a referendum on a new constitution. At the same time, there is disagreement about Moise’s tenure in office, with opposition leaders and some legal scholars saying Moise should step down on February 7 this year. Moise, disagrees. The timeline his electoral council has submitted assumes he stays in office another year. 

Overdue elections

Haiti has not had a sitting parliament since January 13, 2020. Parliamentary elections, supposed to be held in the fall of 2019, were not held in time. As a result there were not enough members of Parliament to achieve a quorum (and vote on a new election law). Later in the year terms for most local officials also expired without elections to fill posts. One estimate is that there are only 11 elected officials serving in the entire country at the moment. Since January 2020, Moise has ruled by decree. 

It is important to keep in mind that massive demonstrations in the summer of 2018 brought about the resignation of the government. A new prime minister was then forced out of office again amidst protests in February of 2019. During the fall of 2019 lasting through the beginning of 2020, the country was locked down as the result of protests calling for Moise to resign. 

With U.S. backing, Moise has prevailed through it all. Over the last year, with Moise ruling by decree, there has been an increase in violence by non-state actors (evidence suggests in many cases they are aligned with police), including political assassinations. Protests have been met with state violence as well. In December Moise issued an executive decree increasing penalties for protest and initiating new intelligence services.

Opposition voices, both in the streets and among a divided political class, are demanding Moise leave – before elections and constitutional reforms proceed. Moise’s election was itself problematic. He “won” in a highly contested election – one with two rounds of balloting as the first round was cancelled due to accusations of corruption. Because there was a delay in Moise taking office, he has argued his tenure should extend another year. The opposition says no! He must leave on February 7, 2021 as originally scheduled. Moise’s predecessor, Michel Martelly, left office on February 7, 2016.

With most eyes in the country on February 7 (which this year marks the 35th anniversary of Jean Claude Dulavier’s resignation and flight from the country amidst widespread protest), Moise is looking ahead.

Election timeline

What Moise is proposing is a referendum on changes to Haiti’s constitution in April of 2021, and then to hold national elections on September 19, 2021, for parliament and the presidency. On November 21, local elections will be held, alongside runoffs (as needed) for national posts. To approve and implement this timeline, Moise appointed a 9-member electoral commission, by decree, of course. Which is to say, the whole process is already illegal, at least under the existing constitution. 

As far as the new constitution goes, it has not been made public yet. However, some of the changes possibly in-store were leaked. From the Miami Herald:

Among the biggest changes, according to an interview with Louis Naud Pierre on Port-au-Prince-based Magik 9 radio station earlier this week, is the elimination of the post of prime minister and the Haitian Senate, and the introduction of governors for each region.

The United States and the Organization of American States, which split intervention duties in Haiti when it comes to elections, have given divided messages. Both are standing with Moise, and his authority to oversee elections, but the U.S. wants those elections held immediately. The OAS agrees with a quick timeline for elections, though has, in previous statements, accepted the extended tenure for Moise. Biden’s campaign has only said he would “work with the international community” to ensure elections happen soon. What the U.S. position will be concerning the election timeline once he takes office is not exactly clear.

Meanwhile, the opposition is arguing for Moise to step down on schedule (Feb 7, 2021), to be replaced by a transitional authority that would oversee new elections. Such an exercise in self-determination is not likely to be supported by the U.S. or the OAS, but we’ll see. Perhaps the Biden administration will be too busy dealing with fallout from our own electoral crisis to weigh in too heavily on Haiti’s.

So, we wait. The days leading up to February 7th and whatever follows, could well lead the country into another lock down, and/or much more violence. Moise seems determined to hold power – for now – and has decreed himself an enormous amount of authority to use force if he decides it is necessary. The opposition is still refusing to accept a process that involves him, which for now leaves them the bully pulpit of opposition media, and the streets. For the majority of Haitians this means a good chance that there will be more disruptions to their lives and work. Even if most are sympathetic to opposition demands, people are clearly weary of the conflict.  

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