Haitian Presidential and Legislative Elections: What’s at Stake on November 28?
November 23, 2010
Q1: What are Haitians voting for on November 28, 2010?
A1: National elections will take place on Sunday, November 28, for a new Haitian president and a new 99-member Parliament, plus 11 members of the 30-seat Senate. The latter were to have been elected in February, but elections were postponed after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the Haitian capital and surrounding cities on January 12. There are 19 presidential candidates who represent a wide range of political parties. As of this writing, there are three frontrunners, based on polling done in the last week: Jude Célestin, the hand-picked candidate of current President René Préval’s Inite Party; Charles Baker, a businessman, who seeks election to help the economy and bring jobs to his country; and Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady and vice rector of Quisqueya University. It is likely that a runoff election will be required for any one candidate to receive a majority of votes. That runoff is scheduled for January 16, 2011.
Q2: Will the elections be “free and fair”?
A2: With so many obstacles currently facing Haitians—1.5 million persons displaced and living in tent cities after the earthquake and now a major cholera epidemic that has already claimed more than 1,250 lives—it is understandable that many question whether or not these elections will meet international standards of fairness and legitimacy. Some candidates and outside observers have argued that holding elections in Haiti at this point may be a disaster in light of the many difficult issues. But according to the head of the UN Mission in Haiti, Ambassador Edmond Mulet, the diversity of parties represented in both the presidential races and the legislative campaigns (there are 66 parties campaigning) provides a variety of options for all voters who participate. He has also said that Haitians have no other choice but to move forward if progress in rebuilding the country is to happen. The election is also marred by the cholera epidemic, with new cases appearing each day. Since the disease is not airborne, the authorities have deemed it safe to move forward with Sunday’s plebiscite. The risk, however, in holding the elections with so much disinformation about the spread of the disease is a lower turnout at the polls.
Q3: What is at stake for Haiti’s future political development?
A3: What is at stake is the huge amount of resources that have been pledged by the international donor community to rebuild Haiti since the January earthquake destroyed so much of the country’s infrastructure and displaced more than 1.5 million Haitians. Anyone who wins the presidency or gains a seat in the legislature will be entrusted with funds that potentially could transform this impoverished country once and for all. New leaders will be expected to produce results and achieve tangible signs of positive change very quickly. Haiti’s political development will also require that whoever wins the election build an inclusive national consensus on Haiti’s future. To do this will mean showing Haiti’s citizens a willingness to break down old monopolies of economic and political power that have stymied Haiti’s development. This election could be transformational—provided the winners can help “build back better” the Haitian state.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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