A runoff election on Sunday for president in Haiti was postponed indefinitely late last week. The decision made sense, because with protesters in the streets, violence and gunfire and the torching of electoral offices, it was clear that any vote would be marred by bloodshed and chaos.
It was also good because, with only one candidate participating, any result would be ludicrous and fraudulent.
That candidate is Jovenel Moïse, a political unknown who is the handpicked successor to President Michel Martelly, whose term is up. Mr. Moïse finished first in a first-round election in October, but that election was so tainted by accusations of rigged voting and intimidation that the runner-up, Jude Célestin, denounced the result and refused to campaign in round 2.
Mr. Célestin’s argument, echoed by other opposition politicians, church and business leaders, members of the Haitian diaspora and human rights groups, is that the country’s fragile democracy faces a crisis of legitimacy. Only by fully investigating last year’s elections — including legislative elections in August that were also the subject of violence and fraud — and reforming the voting process can the country produce a government worthy of the citizens’ trust. Earlier this month members of the Haitian Senate voted to urge that the runoff be postponed.
Mr. Martelly, naturally, disagreed, wanting to deposit his man in power before he leaves office on Feb. 7, as the Constitution requires. Late last week, as protests mounted, Mr. Martelly was still insisting that the election had to be held. He had the support of the United States, which has already spent more than $33 million on the election, the Organization of American States and other foreign governments that had been pressuring Haitian officials to proceed. Only when the threat of violence became overwhelming did Haiti’s election officials decide to call things off.
In a statement on Sunday, the State Department said, “The United States reaffirms its support for credible, transparent and secure elections that reflect the will of the Haitian people.”
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Well, yes, that would be good. But the conditions that permit such elections do not exist in Haiti now, and are not going to suddenly emerge in the next two weeks. They have not been nurtured for the last five years by President Martelly, who displays the strongman tendencies of Haiti’s worst rulers, and who bears much responsibility for the crisis, having not called local and parliamentary elections for years. The terms of practically every elected official in the country have expired, allowing Mr. Martelly to rule by decree since January 2015.
Haiti was devastated by an earthquake six years ago this month. The rest of the world, particularly its neighbor the United States, rushed in 2010 with promises to help rebuild Haiti’s shattered buildings and institutions. The job, tragically, was left undone, complicated by an imported cholera epidemic and continuing economic suffering. Now, Haiti is on the precipice again, because of a man-made disaster of dirty elections, an unsavory president and the threat of crippling instability.
The best result would be Mr. Martelly’s departure, a brief period of transitional government and swift agreement among Haitian leaders on a program of electoral reform that enables free and fair elections. Haiti, with the support of the international community, must emerge from the crisis with a politics worthy of its people.