For the past 67 weeks, Haïti Liberté columnist Catharine Charlemagne has written in French a series of articles entitled “Haiti, Chronicle of an Electoral Crisis.” We present here the English translation of her report from last week’s Aug. 19 edition.
The Fiasco of Sunday, August 9, 2015!
“Even if Haitian leaders had a hundred years and a hundred billion dollars to prepare for the elections, the result would have been the same. It is not a question of time or resources. It is a question of incompetence.” This is how a member of a group of international observers, with whom I monitored Haiti’s election day on Sun., Aug. 9, 2015, summed up the fiasco.
Indeed, what happened in Haiti on Aug. 9 was surreal. It was a totally incomprehensible, even disgusting, event that we witnessed that day. Even the November 2010 elections, which Haitians often qualify as the worst this country has ever known, were not at this level of disorganization, incompetence, violence, and underdevelopment.
The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), the National Observation Council (CNO) and the Haitian Council of Non State Actors (CONHANE) observed the Aug. 9 voting. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were appalled at what they witnessed during the election day. According to these three NGOs, the nation’s most credible, the irregularities, incidents of fraud, and numerous cases of violence cannot in any way be qualified as spontaneous acts. They are convinced that there was a will to harm, destroy, and intimidate the population. That is also my opinion based on the observations I made in the field.
I was present for the November 2010 elections. I even had a badge of an election assessor. So I was at the heart of events. I witnessed, like everyone else, the desire of those in power at the time to monopolize the election. But there was never an effort on the part of those who wanted to win the elections at any cost to prevent citizens from accessing their voting centers and polling stations to fulfill their civic duty.
A desire to fill the ballot box on behalf of the government’s candidate, certainly; but no overt gestures to spoil the vote. But Sun., Aug. 9, 2015, was the opposite. We witnessed a takeover of the ballot boxes by violence . From the start, the desire and will that everything go wrong were visible from almost all political parties and candidates. And therein lies the paradox of this election. Some of the government, part of the opposition, some local and foreign organizations, and much of the population did not really want this election.
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), led by its President Pierre-Louis Opont, was desperate to complete this first electoral operation, just to prove to the world that he would keep his word. However, higher up everything was planned for this to be a real fiasco. Worse than that, an electoral disaster. Voting bureaus and centers were poorly marked. There were no passes or almost none for observers from opposition parties. There were often no observers. Security was poor. The police were passive to and sometimes an accomplice in violence. In short, there was no visible technical organization that would allow one to believe that a vote was possible that day.
Living through this Aug. 9, 2015, was like living through five years. This time I was not an assessor. I had arranged weeks earlier to go everywhere with a group of European electoral observers, which allowed me to pass as one of them. I don’t know how but these observers, who include some of my sources, provided me with everything needed to be able to accompany them everywhere. So I experienced this election from the inside and as it happened.
The first flaw in the system was at the entrance to the voting centers, where no one really checked the authenticity of badges worn by international observers. Anyone could claim the title of local or international election observer. It was enough that the group leader show up and announce that we were international observers, then show his badge, and after a furtive glance from the head of the polling center, voilà! Even if we had 1,000 or 2,000 members in our group, we would have all passed without any problem. This was the first anomaly that I marked in my notebook.
Many voting centers around Haiti, like that pictured above, were attacked and vandalized on Aug. 9, leaving hundreds of thousands of Haitians unable to vote.
The second problem of observing this election: observers had nothing to observe. They could simply note the failure of a society to meet any norm. No rules. No order. The atmosphere around all the polling places bore proof that there was nothing serious in what the Haitian authorities call electoral process, elections, and, lastly, a vote. In fact, everything was wrong. Everything was laughable. Everything was childish. Everything was sad for a people who have celebrated their bicentennial 11 years ago.
In Haiti, there are only fancy titles that in the end merely hide people’s greed for money. The smallest primary activity is led by a gaggle of leaders: Director General, Technical Director, Operations Manager, Service Manager, Human Resources Manager, Director this, Director that. In the final analysis, it is for nothing and a waste of money.
On Aug. 9, 2015, at 5:30 a.m., we started visiting the streets and polling stations in Port-au-Prince and its surrounding areas. Since most international observers seem to stay in hotels in Pétionville, we do not know why, a lot of them, as if by chance, chose to start their election adventure in the City of Alexandre Pétion. It is better lit, cleaner, more stylish without doubt. But it is also closer to their base, “just in case …” One cannot but notice the obsession of these “tourists” who come every five years to stay close to their embassies or ambassadors’ residences.
Another anomaly that should be emphasized is the deployment of election observers. They all stick together for safety reasons, they say.
From Pétion-Ville to the center of the Haitian capital, we saw things that no country in the world would dare consider acceptable in an election. One example among a thousand others: personally, I vote in a polling station located in Turgeau, where I have always voted in each election. Of course, I was accompanied by our group of observers from the European Union. Arriving at the scene, the cacophony, the hubbub, incivility, the organized disorder by candidates of all parties without distinction, the impotence of the security forces were such that some of the group were frightened and refused to get out of the car. This especially because these Europeans did not understand a word of what the demonstrators were yelling in Creole. Initially, they thought it was a riot. Since the day before, there were rumors that the country would be ablaze on Sunday morning. There was also a rumor that there would be a curfew in metropolitan Port-au-Prince starting at 8 p.m. on Sat., Aug. 8.
Curiously, there was no denial from the government saying that it had never been a question of preventing the public from going about its business, that no curfew was planned. But the damage was done. After Sat., Aug. 8, at 7 p.m., there was nobody in the streets. The capital and its suburbs were emptied of their inhabitants. The population remained at home. Ditto for Sunday, when there were very few people in the streets. Except thugs who wanted to do battle with those who wanted to vote.
Back to our friends and our election observers at the Turgeau polling station. Being Haitian, I gathered up my courage. I went in to inquire with people running everywhere. We learned that the few people present in front of the voting center did not find their names on the list. Others, however, had found their names, but were not on the voter list. This created an atmosphere of revolt in this area of Turgeau. The two police officers assigned to this center, consisting of several voting stations, preferred to take shelter under a tree far away from the site.
Finally, some observers accompanied me and helped me find my name on the posted list outside. Good news, every letter of our name was there. I could now enter to perform the supreme act of citizenship: voting. Except that, once inside the voting station, duly accompanied by our observer friends doing their observing work, it was impossible to vote. My name was not written anywhere on the voter lists. Now, if you are not on this list, you cannot vote. In a small cramped room where the heat and stench were stifling, the tension was quickly rising between the few voters there and those who were in charge of the famous voter lists. Just as someone was telling us that my name might be on the list at the Sylvio Cator Stadium voting center, down in the city, as the people outside were punching it out, someone outside the building made use of his firearm. Panic, screams, stampedes. Everyone, including national and international observers, dove face down on the ground.
Then, someone who could not perform his civic duty decided simply to get everyone out of the polling center and close it before leaving quietly with the keys. “If Pierre-Louis Opont needs the key to this polling station, he can come to my home to get it,” he said, smiling and disappearing into the crowd in front of the building without anyone reacting. It was not up to the observers to react, they were there to take notes. Ten minutes later, people were still talking all over the street and in the building’s courtyard, yelling at each other. Fights ensued between members of the closed polling stations and those visibly excited and pleased with the closing of the polling center and seeking to brawl. Like visitors disembarking from the Planet Mars, four police officers arrived at the scene armed to the teeth. But there was no one to arrest and the polling center remained closed throughout the rest of the polling day.
At noon we left the place. From Turgeau, our team responded to an emergency on the Champ de Mars. On the radio, it was announced that things were going very badly in a polling center at the National School, not far from the recently renovated Ciné-Theatre Triomphe. Once we got there, the security forces were present. We were a few meters from the Haitian presidential offices. The Port-au-Prince Police station is a short distance away. But the police presence did not deter the rioters and their leaders from disrupting the smooth conduct of the vote. Ballots and ballot boxes littered the floor of the polling stations out into the street and the walls of the Triomphe. Potential voters kept their distance. The operation was suspended. The polling center was not closed, people wanted to vote, but the polling station members were afraid.
The police tried to clear the front of the center whose leaders awaited the CEP’s orders on what to do. Meanwhile, time passed.
Finally, we went to the Sylvio Cator Stadium Center, where in theory I was supposed to vote. Luckily, my name was indeed displayed. This time, I could not even get into the polling station. Supporters of the [Martelly-aligned parties] PHTK and Bouclier candidates barred the way. They let in who they wanted. You had to prove that you would vote for their parties if you wanted a chance to enter. When we arrived, there were Haitian observers on site known to be critical of the government who were confronting these fanatics imposing their law. Visibly armed and afraid of no one, these supporters of parties close to the government, no doubt paid for their services, obeyed only themselves. The Sylvio Cator Stadium Voting Center, like most other centers or polling stations in the Port-au-Prince region, was unable to allow people to vote correctly. Therefore, I was not able to vote on Sun., Aug. 9, 2015. Who in Haiti would be surprised by this organized mess on Aug. 9? Honestly, nobody. No condition was met for this election to go well.
An electoral sham
It was enough to visit one voting center to understand that there was no election and that the country as a whole had only witnessed an electoral sham that shames Haitians.
The worst is that the very evening of this so-called election, without taking any step back, all the leaders who were co-responsible for this charade went to their podiums without embarrassment, puffed out their chests, and cried victory. How can we talk of acceptable elections faced with such a farce?
That the international community wanted to talk of “progress” and to look the other way, because this is its failure, is understandable. After all, it has nothing to lose because its credit with the Haitian population, for a long time now and it knows it, is at zero. It seeks to cover its failure to establish a reliable democratic system in Haiti over the past 30 years, that’s its problem. And some even say that it’s claiming victory is the least of the problem.
But where it becomes criminal is to see with what pride and assurance Haitian electoral and government leaders talk about success and qualify as satisfactory what is the worst election ever organized in Haiti. Haitian leaders are wicked and criminals with no respect for their countrymen if they consider what happened on Aug. 9 as something good, just, and moral for Haiti’s people.
In the old tradition, the blame fell on others. The whole country was shocked when the CEP president, Pierre-Louis Opont, clumsily attempted to blame an unfortunate head of the CEP’s IT services as the culprit for the CEP’s failure to organize a good election.
The poor scapegoat, Joseph Hébert Lucien, employed for seven long years by the CEP, found himself at the center of a plot whose explanation insults one’s intelligence. By publicly accusing this low-level staffer of sabotaging the electoral process, Pierre-Louis Opont and others think they can pass off their responsibilities by placing them on the back of an obscure employee who is supposed to be the mastermind of the electoral failure. Not only is this not serious, it is nefarious and takes the entire country for idiots.
Fortunately, Joseph Hébert Lucien, the sacrificial lamb or the hero of the evening, was not impressed by the nonsense of the beleaguered CEP president questioning his future in Haiti or in exile. According to the CEP’s former head of IT services, it is not his concern. It is rather Pierre-Louis Opont who should worry, Lucien says, if the case should go to court as Opont and Justice Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir have announced.
Lucien has information that might interest investigators about what happened in the CEP which has given birth to this shameful day. Some in Haiti believe that this unfortunate and irresponsible move by Pierre-Louis Opont, who wanted to scapegoat this anonymous employee, has finally sealed his doom as the head of the electoral body. Nothing can save him from an end like disgraced former CEP President Gaillot Dorsinvil, according to others. Since that fateful Sunday, the country as a whole has risen up and demanded either the resignation of all the CEP members, or the outright cancellation of the Aug. 9 vote, or the redoing of elections in all constituencies where there was no election. In fact in almost all of Haiti, candidates and political parties wish and request it. All except the three most financially prominent parties—PHTK, Vérité and Bouclier—who are also accused of being the principal masterminds of the trouble registered around the entire country.
On Aug. 11, a group of parties, platforms and personalities gathered at the locale of FUSION to challenge the Provisional Electoral Council on the implementation of the process. They number a dozen, including the Fusion of Social Democrats, Fanmi Lavalas, Renmen Ayiti, Consortium, Mouvman Revolisyonè Ayisyen, ALAH, Ayisyen pou Ayiti, and Sen. François Anick Joseph among others, to state that “the scale of fraud and irregularities is such that the results could undermine the rest of the electoral process as a whole.”
These enemy brothers who united their voices to tell the CEP that they are not ready to swallow this snake understand “that the results of these elections can have disastrous consequences for the stability and peace in the country.” They flatly oppose the continued elections in these conditions and demanded an independent evaluation commission before continuing the process.
The senator of the Artibonite, the former priest François Anick Joseph, simply called for the arrest of CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont, saying he is responsible for this disaster and for wasting millions of dollars in name of the nation.
As for the political leader Reynold Georges, a born provocateur speaking on behalf of the party Renmen Ayiti (Haiti Love) of candidate Jean Henry Céant, at that meeting, he believed it was wiser for Pierre-Louis Opont to go at the nearest police station from his home. In this case, he would avoid the police arresting him like a common bandit on the streets of Port-au-Prince.
In this unprecedented chorus of criticism from all political sides and all the social groups in the country about an election, we were stunned to find that only the president of the Republic, Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Evans Paul alias KPlim, the CEP, and of course the international community, even before waiting for the reports from their observers, made a flight forward saying they were satisfied with the conduct of the elections while recognizing that there was some irregularities and acts of violence in some polling centers across the country. But do they argue that these widespread and severe cases of fraud and violence do not put in question the legitimacy of these elections? …
Having closely followed the conduct of elections in most of the European and American countries which sent observers to Haiti, I remain dumbfounded at the cynicism they display when giving lessons to Third World countries seeking democracy, stability, and political modernity. In their countries, there just needs to be a single case of clear irregularity in one polling station and the president’s office cancels the vote. Behold, in Haiti, the entire population has said NO to the unacceptable. But the international community is trying to impose on it a propaganda coup and forward flight.
Meanwhile, the CEP continues to count ballots at the Vote Tabulation Center (CTV) installed at the SONAPI Industrial Park, not far from the airport, in the presence of observers from the OAS, EU, and others, while it is these same observers who are trying to reassure the press and through it the population.
Finally, according to the director of the Tabulation Center, Widmarc Matador, “no one can alter the results of the Center,” he said, “everything is under perfect control.”
If this is how the elections are going to be conducted, people need to worry. The obstinacy of the team that controls the electoral machine with a timetable that everyone has criticized has put things on a steep, even dangerous, slope not only for the electoral process but for the future of ten million Haitians.