On April 1, the Haitian House of Deputies voted unanimously for the Electoral Law paving the path to organize Legislative and Municipal elections. All that remains is the Senate vote. Yet, 255 days and counting, and there has been no vote. A group of six radical senators have refused to sit for quorum. They know what everyone else knows: the majority of the senators will vote in favor of the law. These six senators are undermining Haiti’s very hard fought democratic gains over the past few decades. But their intentions run much deeper than that. Their stated goal is to return the country to an environment of violence, chaos and instability in order to organize a coup d’état against the Martelly Administration. Five of the six senators are from Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas. And even more concerning are reports that Aristide and the six senators are reaching out to Russian President Valdimir Putin to help them with the autogolpe (coup d’etat).
The Martelly Administration has received an unprecedented level of support and validation for their efforts to organize the elections. On August 27, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) declared that “the Executive Branch and the House of deputies have fulfilled the commitments made in the El Rancho Agreement to facilitate the organization of the elections but noted to date that the Senate has not done anything”. This resolution came after President Martelly invited 50 political parties and duly mandated representatives of both houses of parliament into a long political dialogue resulting in a series of political concessions known as the El Rancho Accord. The far-reaching concessions included opening the government to the opposition despite the fact that they do not have a majority in either chamber of parliament. Specifically, President Martelly gave the opposition full control of Haiti’s High Administrative Court and control of the electoral body, known as the CEP. While the six senators claim that they have no representation in the CEP, the current President is the Senate representative.
At the UN, on September 11, US Ambassador and President of the Security Council Samantha Powers stronglycondemned the actions of the six senators: “Many of Haiti’s elected leaders have worked tirelessly to seek a political compromise and have offered meaningful concessions toward that end, including with regard to the composition of the electoral council and the cabinet. But a group of six senators seems intent on holding elections hostage to partisan concerns, even going so far as to prevent a debate on the Electoral Law. Legislators in a democracy have a responsibility to defend their constituents’ rights. But when elected officials take advantage of democracy’s checks and balances to cynically block debate and elections altogether, they stand in the way of addressing citizens’ real needs.”
Unfortunately, the UN mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, appears to be ambiguous in their position if not actually encouraging protests due to some personal political allegiances. This is remarkable in that MINUSTAH has previous focused squarely on supporting a secure environment and facilitating the electoral process.
In the US, on September 16, a bi-partisan group of Democratic and Republican Representatives and Senators wrote aletter to the President of the Haitian Senate urging a vote: “As elected representatives of the Haitian people, we are sure you and your colleagues share the conviction that free, fair, and credible elections are an indispensable tenet of any democracy. Haitians, like all citizens in a democracy, have a right to express their will through regular and timely elections for their government representatives. That is why we are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year. We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed. We are deeply concerned that should the protracted political impasse continue, Haiti’s standing as a stable democracy could be at risk. This could have grave consequences, potentially reversing progress made in recent years and impeding the kind of development Haiti needs so badly. We respectfully are writing to you, because we believe you can help end the impasse in the Senate by supporting the formation of a quorum to move the stalled elections legislation forward. It is in this spirit that we urge you to take a leadership role in passing the stalled elections legislation.”
Yet international pressure is having no impact on the six radical senators. They have an agenda and no amount of political concessions or international pressure is going to make any difference. Their playbook is well known by Haitian analysts; it has not changed over the past twenty years. First, they organize protests and have some of their henchmen fire into the crowds to hurt and killed protestors and then quickly take to the popular radio stations with unsubstantiated claims that the government is behind these violent and undemocratic acts. This has already happened. Second, they raid morgues, steal cadavers riddle them with bullets, and dump them onto the streets again blaming the government for violating human rights. This has already happened. Third, they burn the public markets. This has already been done. Fourth, they lobby the State Department and use their ideological allies in the international networks to advance their cause. And finally, they invent political prisoners.
This time around, however, information technology is getting on their way. During the last two protests, the opposition henchmen have been identified shooting at the opposition protest. Pictures of Deputy Arnel Belizaire, a member of the opposition, have emerged on Facebook and Twitter firing a heavy automatic weapon into the crowds. Radical Senator John Joel Joseph from Fanmi Lavalas, a member of the 2004 Operation Baghdad campaign of terror that resulted in the death of more than 2,000 Haitians, had his security fire into the crowds as well.
There is an equally extensive playbook and track record of the current opposition – led by INITE and Lavalas, undermining elections. Haiti has organized 11 elections since 1990. Leveraging control of the CEP, Lavalas rigged seven of them and INITE two. So there were two acceptable elections, and they were organized by the provisional governments of Trouillot in 1990 and Boniface Alexandre in 2006. In November 2010, Martelly would never have been able to take his democratically won seat as President if the voters did not take the street to defend their vote.
Unless Lavalas and INITE control the government and the CEP, they will not participate in any election and will not accept the rule they themselves set when they amended the constitution. They will instead escalate the violence. So Haiti now faces three options: First, the opposition decides to put the interest of Haiti first and sit for quorum allowing the vote for the Electoral Law. In this scenario, elections can take place in the first quarter of 2015. Second, like President Preval in 1999, President Martelly can rule by decree at the expiry of the parliamentary term on January 12, 2015. Martelly could issue an electoral decree for the elections to take place in the first quarter of 2015. The State Department’s Haiti Deputy Director, Joel Danies, indicated that the 1999 jurisprudence scenario is the most likely, listen. Third, and most concerning is the opposition succeeds in organizing a coup d’etat, and Haiti plunges back into instability. At this time, it is impossible to predict what will happen. But the vast majority of Haitians – at home and abroad – sincerely hope the six senators will allow democracy to prevail and put their country first.