[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#3075: NCHR Statement on Haitian Elections (fwd)

From: Jocelyn McCalla <JMcCalla@nchr.org>

For Further Information, please contact:
Patrick Gavigan (212) 337-0005 ext. 19

The National Coalition for Human Rights (NCHR), a non-partisan Haitian human
rights organization based in New York and Port-au-Prince, deplores the
ongoing delay in the organization of critical parliamentary elections in
Haiti.  NCHR insists that the Haitian government and electoral officials
must move quickly to establish a clear plan for resolving recent voter
registration problems in time for a ballot at the end of April or early May.

Organization of the long-delayed parliamentary vote has been troubled by
poor leadership and management, leading to well-publicized recent voter
registration problems.  Nevertheless, the electoral process is far enough
along to rectify the registration deficiencies and other serious
administrative problems in time to hold elections within six weeks.  The
vote will not be perfect-like all Haitian elections in recent years, it will
be marred by poor administrative coordination and oversight, voter confusion
and frustration, and uncertainty and some fraud in vote counting and
reporting.  But a reasonable effort to fix existing problems, complete voter
registration, launch a voter-education campaign, and persuade candidates to
address critical issues that might convince voters to turn out, can move
Haiti to blemished but credible elections now.  Further delays-after one
year's worth of work-will not significantly improve the quality of the
elections and will likely have severely negative consequences for the
survival of what remains of Haiti's fledging democratic institutions.  Delay
will also lead to severe reductions in the international economic and social
assistance now largely holding Haiti back from complete collapse. 
NCHR fully recognizes the scope of the organizational problems which have
plagued the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) since its formation one year
ago, particularly the recent disarray in the voter registration process.
NCHR has criticized the sluggish, disjointed way in which the CEP has worked
since the day its members were appointed.  NCHR pointed out last spring that
the CEP would never be able to arrange the vote for its first targeted date
(November 1999), and repeated the same warning for the second date (March
2000).  In January 2000, NCHR argued for a CEP delay of the scheduled March
vote to May in order to provide enough time to overcome clear logistical
troubles that had become painfully evident as the CEP struggled to get the
registration process underway.  
Those logistical problems have been widely documented by the Haitian and
international press and confirmed by NCHR's own research: disputes over
local officials appointed by the CEP; far too few voter registration
offices, particularly in the poorest areas (3,500 this year as compared with
10,000 in 1997); terrible logistical blunders in the control, distribution,
and re-supply of registration materials; poorly trained registration staff;
and no credible system in place for supervising the registration process and
identifying the numbers of individuals registered.  As a result, while large
crowds have turned out across the country to obtain a voter card, finding an
accessible (and open) registration bureau has been a nightmare for many and
impossible for some.  Conflict among local elections officials and party
representatives over alleged political favoritism has erupted in several
regions.  Registration materials have been stolen, both for sale on the
street and, allegedly, the fabrication of false cards.  And throughout the
registration process, which opened in late January, the CEP and others have
made numerous contradictory and unreasonably optimistic claims about the
number of eligible voters registered, with no concrete data upon which to
base such estimates.  
Although these problems had been evident for several months, during which
the CEP had, as noted, itself twice postponed the election, the process came
to a jarring halt two weeks ago when President Preval intervened in a highly
disputed way to challenge the CEP's choice of April 9th as the newest
election date.  NCHR has disputed Preval's claim that he has any legal right
to play a role in determining the election date.  (Preval's intervention is
deeply troubling because his constitutional and democratic credentials are
questionable after he closed parliament and remove local officials in
January 1999, establishing a de facto government through which he has since
ruled by decree.)  Nevertheless, the critical point is that Preval, the CEP
and the political parties reach consensus on a new, early date and take the
immediate steps necessary to correct the most glaring organizational
problems:  voter registration, logistics, and CEP staff training and
Determine the Number of Voters Registered 
Registering voters was the CEP's first-and most challenging-elections task.
The registration campaign has been fogged by confusion over the number of
voters eligible to vote and those who actually obtained a card during the
registration period.  The number of potential voters has been estimated at
between 4.5 and 5 million-the actual number is probably impossible to
determine given the lack of hard data of the exact size and structure of the
Haitian population.  The numbers are important only to the extent they
provide a rough determination of how well the CEP has carried out its
registration function, and what percentage of the eligible population may
still be without a card.  The CEP should be able to obtain a reasonable
estimate of the number of registered voters by conducting a quick count of
the number of registration books filled (each book holds 400 registrations)
across the country to determine how successful the existing process has been
in spite of its problems.
In any case, the exact number of eligible voters does not matter as long as
every eligible Haitian has a reasonable opportunity to register and
participate.  And by opening only 3,500 registration sites around the
country, the CEP may have made it very difficult for populations in certain
rural areas and very poor urban sectors to obtain a card.  This problem was
compounded by the shortages of registration materials that developed just a
couple of weeks into the process, forcing many sites to close early.  A
geographic analysis of registration patterns should identify underserved
Extend Registration for Two Weeks in Underserved Areas
Although the voter registration process has been fraught with difficulties,
a surprisingly large number of Haitians have turned out to obtain a voting
card (even if a much smaller number actually intends to vote).  The most
serious problem has been the failure of the CEP to open and consistently
supply enough registration offices to give every eligible Haitian a
reasonable opportunity to register.  The CEP should remedy this situation by
using this week to identify underserved areas and then promptly set up (even
temporary) offices in these regions for an additional two weeks of
registration.  The opening of these additional offices should be accompanied
by a simple radio-based voter education campaign, alerting potential voters
to the locations and dates of the extended registration periods.  The
critical goal is to give all Haitians, from all economic and geographical
locations, a fair chance to participate, and to deny to political actors the
post-election argument that the elections were unfair because their
supporters were not given a chance to obtain a card.     
Address Fraud Concerns via Staff Training and Supervision    
The administrative confusion surrounding the elections has raised charges
that one or more political parties have stolen registration materials in
order to make illegal cards that would enable their supporters to vote more
than once.  Election materials (cameras and film) have indeed been robbed,
and reportedly sold for reasonable prices in Port-au-Prince's street
markets, and funds have been stolen by CEP employees.  These are criminal
acts, lamentable but not surprising in the context of Haiti's poverty and
security situation and the CEP's lax administrative controls.  They do not,
however, affect the potential fairness of the election and should not slow
down the electoral process. 
While it is likely that the elections will be marred by fraudulent
activity-every election in Haiti since 1986 has seen its share-the most
serious problems will not arise from illegal cards.  All Haitians older than
18 are eligible to vote in any case, and every voter will be stamped on a
finger with indelible ink after voting, which should help to prevent
multiple voting (with or without an illegal card).  The greater concern is
with manipulation of the vote count by CEP staff at the voting stations and
en route to the CEP headquarters in Port-au-Prince, a problem also evident
in past elections.  This problem can be addressed by ensuring that no single
political party or faction controls any voting or counting station and
elections observers and CEP supervisors follow the voting and counting
process closely.  
Thus, the concerns about fraud are real but misconstrued, and lie with the
training and supervision of the poll workers and CEP regional vote counters.
The CEP's faults in training, supervising and compensating its voter
registration workers are now evident, but the CEP should have almost a full
month to remedy its most serious problems prior to the actual election.  
Finally, suggestions that the computerization of registered voters is the
only way to avoid fraud is both factually mistaken and completely
impractical in Haiti-a government unable to manage a simple manual electoral
process will have even less success with machines requiring reliable
electricity, well-trained data processors, and reliable software and
hardware support, requirements all in very short supply.  Automating the
electoral system would result in months of additional delay with no
assurance that the opportunities for fraud will be reduced-computerized
numbers can be just as easily manipulated as manual ones if supervisory
controls are weak.  
Candidates Must Give Voters a Reason to Turn Out 
With Haiti again on the brink of economic and social collapse, political
candidates and parties across the political spectrum have failed to address
any of the appalling crises facing the country.   Bickering over the
organization of the elections, personal attacks, irresponsible charges of
election "coups" and "conspiracies," and hollow propaganda slogans have
substituted for any serious attempt by anyone to suggest what they might do
for the country in the event they were to win an election.
As a result, the irresponsible, petty wrangling for personal political power
marring Haitian politics for the last three years, the same squabbling that
disgusted voters so much that only 5% turned out for the last election,
threatens to lead to the same outcome this year.  Political leaders and
candidates have offered these voters no reason to change the eloquent
judgment they rendered on the Haitian political class by refusing to vote in
1997.  NCHR has concluded that the overriding reason Haitians have turned
out to register is to obtain the first photo identification card most have
ever owned, one recognized officially by the government.  It will serve a
wide range of business and social purposes as well as provide the first
proof of nationality and citizenship most have known.  The pride in owning
the card, however, suggests very little about whether the same Haitians will
turn out and vote.  A perfectly rational interest in obtaining a photo
identification card should not be confused with a desire or intention to
actually fill out a ballot.  A repeat of the 5% turnout in 1997 will rob any
new government of the political legitimacy and broad support necessary to
begin to rebuild Haiti's institutions.
NCHR therefore urges political candidates to face the issues in a way that
will give voters a belief that they have something at stake in the
elections.  Where are proposals to jump-start Haiti's economy, to provide
economic hope to the country's poorest?  Proposals to address the security
situation, to reverse the erosion of the Haitian National Police and
confront the alarming growth of the drug trade that now threatens to turn
Haiti into a "narco-state"?  To build a justice system that functions to
protect citizens' fundamental rights?  To provide health services and
education to the most illiterate population in the Western Hemisphere?  To
halt the increasing desertification of what had once been a lush tropical
country?  To build democratic political institutions which actually
The International Community Should Send a Large Monitoring Mission
While the US, Canada, France, the European Union, the UN, the OAS and a
number of other states have been pressuring Haiti to move forward with
elections, they have been slow to arrange for a sizable international
elections monitoring contingent.  Given the importance of these elections,
the organizational problems that may lead to a muddled vote, and the lack of
a well-structured and financed domestic monitoring capacity, the presence of
a large international monitoring mission becomes crucial for determining
whether the elections are reasonably competent and fair and the resulting
new parliament, therefore, legitimate.  The UN/OAS civilian mission in Haiti
that played a large role in monitoring earlier votes, MICIVIH, has closed
down, and a smaller successor mission, MICAH, will not be on the ground in
time to play a monitoring role.  Efforts to develop more than a small
international monitoring presence have not proven fruitful to date.  NCHR
urges a redoubling of efforts in this area.  

Remember the Stakes
The year-long conflict among Haiti's political actors over the organization
of new elections has obscured the actual purpose of the vote-to halt Haiti's
slide back toward authoritarian rule and reestablish frail but functioning
democratic institutions.  These institutions, in turn, are necessary for the
construction of a state government strong and competent enough to tackle
Haiti's dire economic, social and security issues (with extensive
international assistance).  And only a state with a respected police force,
independent judiciary and vibrant civil society can protect and promote the
human rights of its citizens.  
The postponement of these elections under pressure from President
Preval-whether for several months or until the November presidential
vote-would be another serious setback for democracy in Haiti.  It would
bring widespread international censure, and return Haiti to the camp of
authoritarian states.  Large-scale development assistance would disappear,
and economic and political isolation would further exacerbate Haiti's
already-extreme poverty.
FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY, 10001, BY PHONE AT 212.337.0005, BY FAX AT
212.337.0028, AND BY E-MAIL AT NCHR@NCHR.ORG <mailto:NCHR@NCHR.ORG> .

Jocelyn McCalla
Executive Director
National Coalition for Haitian Rights