By JUDE CÉLESTIN
For four years, Haiti’s President Michel Martelly refused to hold elections. He stripped the country of all but 10 of the thousands of constitutionally mandated elected officials and appointed friends and supporters in their place. Now, as his five-year term nears its end on Feb. 7, Martelly is scrambling to put in place a new president loyal to him and his so-called Haitian (PHTK) “Bald Headed” Party.
According to the discredited Provisional Electoral Council’s (CEP) official results, I came in second to the government-backed candidate, therefore qualifying for the presidential runoff. Many have had a hard time understanding why I chose to join the seven other top presidential candidates — known as the Group of Eight — in insisting on verification of those results.
My reasons are simple. Both in the violence- and fraud-marred August parliamentary elections, and in October’s electoral farce, the CEP showed that it had no qualms about blatantly manipulating results in favor of Martelly’s candidates. Any candidate, myself included, who would go into this presidential runoff without the required changes would be a fool.
If Haiti is to continue on its admittedly vexing path toward a real democracy, institutional stability and economic development, such utter contempt for the will of the Haitian people must end.
If it does not end now, one must ask: Will Haiti’s long-suffering population ever see the day when voters’ preference actually decides who will lead them? Will the international community’s often patronizing, “We know what’s best for you” attitude, ever give way to support for the same democratic values in Haiti that it cherishes at home?
In the August vote, opposition poll watchers were excluded by the Provisional Electoral Council. Wherever the president’s supporters believed they were losing, they broke up the balloting by stuffing ballots and sending in armed goons.
Two months later, the presidential elections were plagued by even more systematic fraud. The balloting was, according to the title of the local observers’ report, “A well-planned massive electoral fraud.” In mid-December, one prominent U.S. daily reminded the U.S. government that it “should know that it’s impossible to build a legitimate government on a rotten foundation.”
Last month, reluctantly succumbing to massive street protests and disbelief over the results from virtually every sector of Haitian society, the president finally established an Electoral Evaluation Commission. The commission’s findings underscored the extent of the fraud: 30 percent of tally sheets had multiple names with no Voter Identification Number; 57 percent of the audited reports were rife with missing names, signatures or fingerprint identification; 43 percent of the tally sheets inside the vote tabulation center had been modified. It all meant, according to the president’s own commission, that, “These votes had not been expressed by (real) voters.”
The commission called for sweeping changes before the postponed Dec. 27 runoff could be restarted, including the verification of the balloting. It also asked for the removal of CEP members and the prosecution of individuals guilty of vote peddling. This CEP, it stated, has no credibility to organize further elections.
Martelly ignored the recommendations and, with U.S. government support, called Haitians to head to the polls on Jan. 24.
I am a confirmed democrat and have always believed in the legitimate transfer of power. But elections cannot be held by any means necessary, and certainly not under the current set of conditions, evident by now to all in Haiti.
So why have the United States and its fellow “Friends of Haiti” refused to see the massive fraud? Why are they asking the Haitian people to leap for a third time into elections with no real reforms and no cleanup of the process?
The commission, to the surprise of many, presented a viable road map for holding fair elections. If Martelly, the United States and other so-called friends obstinately insist that their one-candidate farce must take place Sunday, it will have to be without me.
Jude Célestin is the presidential candidate of the Alternative League for Progress and Haitian Emancipation (LAPEH/PEACE). He was declared runner-up in Haiti’s Oct. 25 presidential election, but has refused to participate in the already-rigged Jan. 24 runoff without real reforms.