On November 28, I took part in an informal electoral observation delegation to Haiti, observing the election with one of six teams made up of Haitian grassroots organizations, lawyers, and journalists.1 Nineteen political candidates were running for president in an election that many considered one of the most important in the tormented nation’s history. A majority of Haitians still live in turmoil after the January 12 earthquake, and there exists a great deal of uncertainty concerning the billions pledged for its reconstruction. Each team’s objective was to witness the electoral process unfold in a number of targeted polling stations in the cities of Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and Gros Morne, and to document any irregularities. We witnessed widespread disorganization, as the majority of voters were turned away after their arrival at the voting stations because their names did not appear on the voting register. Other voting stations opened late, and still others did not have any ballots. The voting process was already fraught with issues such as the unconstitutional exclusion of 15 political parties, the controversial makeup of the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, and the trouble the Office of National Identification had in replacing hundreds of thousands of voter registration cards lost during the earthquake. Walking around the streets of Port-au-Prince, political graffiti is seen everywhere. This particular wall says “Down with Preval” (the Haitian President), “Down with MINUSTAH = Cholera” (MINUSTAH is the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), “(expletive) MINUSTAH go”, and reiterates a popular demand by laid-off public sector workers to be paid their 36 months of back pay. On election day, the presence of MINUSTAH on every corner of Port-au-Prince gave it the atmosphere of a city under siege, rather than the capital of a nation embarking on a free and fair election. At the Lycee Fritz Pierre Louis, ballots for the deputy position had not been delivered as of 11:00 a.m. (five hours into the voting process). Many of the voters we approached were unable to vote because their names did not appear on the voting register. It was later learned that 5,500 registered voters were unable to cast their ballot at this voting station. Nationally, this dynamic was corroborated by an Organization of American States (OAS) - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) joint mission, which observed that “the election was marred because many people were blocked from voting by rampant disorganization.” As expected, many voters expressed their frustration of being turned away under the ever-present eyes of MINUSTAH troops, Haitian National Police, or private security forces. Several of the voters told us that they saw the names of dead relatives and friends on the voting register. As voters went to cast their vote at the Ecole National Esther Beaubrun Honorat (first photo above), they had to walk past the corpse of a cholera victim who had died two days earlier (second photo above). Several voters commented that the money spent on the election should have been put towards fighting the cholera epidemic. On the other side of the wall is the Haitian University hospital (Hopital de l’Universite d’etat d’Haiti). Outside the Stade Sylvio Cator, another voter was turned away despite being told to vote at this location by the Provisional Electoral Council’s (CEP) hotline. Many people had walked to five or more voting centers to try to cast their vote but were unsuccessful. At the Lycee Fimem, there was more of the same. Voters did not appear on the registers and were turned away from participating in the election. By this time in the early afternoon the frustrations of the voters were starting to boil over. It was becoming clearer as the day went on that this election might not have the required amount of voters to be considered legitimate if the irregularities we witnessed were occurring nationally. The election results have not been released as of this writing. At the Lycee Fimem, our team asked to look at the election registers, out of the 1,800 potential voters on four of the registers viewed only 162 had cast their vote as of 1:30 p.m. At roughly 3:15 p.m., 12 of the 19 presidential candidates called the election an exercise of “massive fraud” and urged their supporters to take to the streets in protest. There were serious irregularities at all of the seven stations visited by our team around central Port-au-Prince. The other teams in the observation mission also reported issues that included voter registration problems, lack of ballots at stations, untrained staff, dead citizens appearing on the voting registers, and a total failure of the Electoral Council’s information hotline. Evidence suggests that these issues were occurring at a national level, which would bring the legitimacy of these elections into serious question. However, several international organizations that financed and supported the elections validated the process. While recognizing the irregularities documented in our observations, the OAS/CARICOM declaration went on to endorse the very questionable process stating: “Based on its observations in the eleven electoral departments, the Joint Mission does not believe that these irregularities, serious as they were, necessarily invalidated the process.” The head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Edmund Mulet commented that the elections were "going well" and that “the decision of the people will be respected. There are some small administrative problems, but no big problem that is going to reduce participation.” Melinda Miles, director of the Let Haiti Live project at TransAfrica Forum observed "when the protest was over, people went back to the tarps they call home to sleep with empty stomachs." Miles went on to say: "These elections were hardly the vehicle to bring a true democratic change to the country, but the widespread fraud and disenfranchisement of Haitian voters is no cause for celebration. Nor can the future government of Haiti be decided by a rally in the streets of the capital; it should reflect the will of the majority of Haitians." Our observation group will issue a report in the coming weeks.
Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA Research Associate.
1. Members of the Observation Teams included representatives of: Let Haiti Live , TransAfrica Forum, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Center for Economic and Policy Research, International Action Ties, Louisiana Justice Institute, Kledev Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye and the Asosyasyon Vwazen Solino, The Neighborhood Association of Solino. It was also a collective organizational effort, not organized from a single group of people.