Haiti’s Orderly Runoff Election—Progress You Can Believe In?
March 22, 2011
On Sunday, March 21, Haitians turned out in significant numbers to vote in runoff elections for president, as well as several legislators. Initial exit polls suggest that Michel Martelly, a popular entertainer turned politician, leads Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady and academic. While official results will not be available until March 31, the second round appeared to go smoothly. Observers said the atmosphere was calm, with little evidence of the problems that marred the first round on November 28, 2010.
Then, violence, fraud allegations, an early poll shutdown, and a faulty count eventually led to the elimination of contender Jude Célestin, outgoing President René Préval’s handpicked candidate. Sunday’s events featured a more organized process on the part of the Provisional Electoral Council. Better trained poll workers and a larger corps of domestic and international observers supplied additional scrutiny helpful in keeping the process on track given a larger turnout than in the first round—approximately 28 percent compared to 22 percent.
Whichever candidate prevails will face a leadership challenge that includes the rebuilding of Haiti’s earthquake-devastated capital, Port-au-Prince, and much of the nation’s infrastructure. Moreover, Haiti’s citizens will be looking to that figure to help them heal. Words and deeds will be closely monitored, and the new chief executive will have to ensure that public expectations are realistic.
The new president will also need to accelerate building a Haitian state that can deliver security and services—something that seemed to stall under the outgoing administration of President Préval. With so many Haitians homeless (800,000 in Port-au-Prince) and with the additional challenge of an ongoing cholera epidemic, the newly elected government will have its hands full from inauguration day on.
However, the new government could also have access to sizeable funds to build a more capable state if donors, who pledged close to $10 billion over the next decade, can be assured that change will go forward. Investors see potential for developing manufacturing businesses given Haiti’s low labor costs, as well as possibilities for revitalizing and expanding its once robust tourist industry.
Despite a few opening delays and missing supplies, the vote signaled that the Haiti is ready to go forward. Further complications await, with two former exiled presidents, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, now back on Haitian soil. Even so, the constitution did not contemplate exile, so perhaps their homecoming and lack of meddling in the runoff may signal a reconciliation with the rule of law, challenging as that might be in a nation lacking strong institutions and a police force that is still under construction.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. She was in Haiti during the runoff election.
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© 2011 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.