By jacqueline charles
More than a dozen U.S. congressional lawmakers are calling on the Haitian Senate to move forward with elections by voting for an electoral law needed to schedule the vote.
In a letter to Haitian Senate President Simon Desras, the bipartisan group of lawmakers urge senators to pass the legislation, saying that “Haitians, like all citizens in a democracy, have a right to express their will through regular and timely elections for their government representatives.”
“We are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed.”
The letter, dated Monday, was signed by 15 congressional lawmakers including South Florida delegation members.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said that it’s important for “Desras and his supporters to put aside their narrow political differences and allow the Haitian Senate to meet and consider legislation needed for these elections to take place by October.”
“Failure to do so not only endangers Haiti’s democratic progress, but its very existence for which so many have sacrificed so much,” said Rubio, who’s from Miami.
The letter comes as Haiti’s political crisis deepens, and the focus appears to be more on the fate of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is now the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, rather than elections.
On Tuesday, several lawmakers visited the former priest and twice-deposed president, who has been in self-isolation since his return from exile in South Africa almost four years ago. Despite his seclusion, Aristide was put under house arrest last week by a judge investigating corruption and drug trafficking allegations during his second presidential term, 2001-2004.
Desras, who shared the letter with members of the Senate, declined to comment. He said he will discuss the letter with senators. Last week, as he closed out the 49th Legislature before members of the lower chamber of deputies recessed for four months, Desras accused legislators of being partly to blame for the crisis.
Earlier this month, Haitian President Michel Martelly’s spokesman said the president was prepared to resume talks with six senators who have blocked the vote from taking place as well as opposition parties and members of civil society. The senators say the proposed law is unconstitutional.
But Mirlande Manigat, a leading opposition figure who lost to Martelly in the 2011 presidential runoff elections, said Martelly is yet to schedule a meeting. Manigat, a constitutional expert, said that a political agreement, called El Rancho Accord, has failed to lead to elections as the international community had hoped it would, and that it is problematic and cannot be applied.
In addition to the senators, several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations. In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) tasked with organizing the vote. Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the executive.
Last month, the CEP informed Martelly that elections couldn’t take place on Oct. 26 as he had declared. And while the international community continues to push for elections before the end of the year, many in Haiti say they don’t see how it is possible in the current political climate.
“Definitely not,” Manigat said. “The question now is when will we have it, and what type of elections?”
But as those questions linger, she said she remains concerned about what will happen in coming months.
“The political crisis will burst before the second Monday in January and will be aggravated,” she said. “That is my concern.”
Without elections, the Haitian Parliament would be dysfunctional on Jan. 12, 2015, which is the second Monday, creating a vacuum until elections can take place.
Sandra Honoré, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Haiti, pointed this out last week during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Haiti. She said that the political momentum that created the inter-Haitian dialogue and resulted in the signing of the El Rancho Accord “had generated hope that combined elections would be held by the end of 2014 for two-thirds of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies, municipal administrations and local councils.”
“Since then, continuing mistrust and disagreements over the electoral process between the executive and opposition members in the legislature caused repeated delays in the implementation of the accord,” Honoré said.
For its part, the international community has tried to mediate the political stalemate but has been unsuccessful. Even veiled threats about senators losing their U.S. visas have not seemed to persuade them to change their position.
“That is a bad route to go down,” opposition Sen. Francky Exius said about possible visa suspensions. “We are not terrorists. We are fighting for the constitution.”
U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the Haitian people “deserve to choose their own leaders and chart the course for their country’s future.
“The delays to free elections in Haiti are stifling the aspirations of that country’s people and undermining Haitian democracy. It’s time for the Haitian Senate to do the right thing and pass the legislation needed to move forward with elections,” Engel said.