Haiti names election date, uncertainty remains

Haiti’s Interim President, Jocelerme Privert, has issued a decree ordering the convening of elections on October 9, according to a statement from the National Palace.

The announcement on July 19 follows a period of continuing stalemate during which the country’s Parliament failed for a fourth consecutive time to meet to decide on Mr Privert’s future as interim President. His term in office, under a transitional agreement reached in February, expired in June. On each occasion there had been no consensus on a quorum among the six political groups represented in the Parliament.

The announcement of a formal election date, which under Haitian law can only be made by the President, followed a Cabinet meeting. The Interim President was quoted as saying that “under no circumstances can we miss the deadline,” and that the October 9 poll was “a key event for the country’s political future.” The October elections would also include voting for one-third of the Senate and unresolved second round parliamentary run-off elections.

However, the decision to name an election date is controversial with opposition parliamentarians and spokesmen for a number of political parties arguing that the interim President lacks the authority to convene the electorate because his term has expired.

In response, President Privert’s supporters have said that, in the absence of any decision by Parliament and given his support by the majority of elected representatives, he had the right to act. They have also said that the decision is in line with a February accord specifying the objective of electing a President.

Despite this, it remains far from clear what kind of background the elections will take place against. The country remains politically volatile and potentially unstable, with the economy in decline and inflation increasing rapidly.

Moreover, it is not easy to see how the elections will be paid for, or by whom, as the United States and the European Union have both said they will not do so. US officials have repeatedly observed that they found no evidence of fraud in the 2015 first round presidential election, and have been far from happy with the decision to start the electoral process again. The US Administration has also been under pressure from Congress to more generally cut funding for Haiti.

Although the country’s interim Prime Minister, Jean Charles, has said the government would now bear the cost of both the presidential and legislative elections and has said that it has a large part of the money, reports suggest that the ballot will cost US$55m of which the country so far only has about US$18m, including US$6m left in a United Nations controlled trust fund from last year’s disputed elections.

In their first reaction to the decision to name an election date, diplomats at the Organization of American States (OAS) welcomed the decision, but warned that there was a pressing need to decide on whether to keep in place the Interim President, noting that if the issue is left unresolved it could lead to a worsening political crisis that would ultimately jeopardise the elections.

In response the Haitian Foreign Minister, Pierrot Delienne, sought to offset such international concern, telling the OAS that the interim government intended “finally and once and for all bring an end to the unending electoral crisis.”

In a subsequent statement, the “Core Group,” which includes the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Ambassadors to the UN from Brazil, Canada, Spain, France, the US, the EU, and the OAS, reiterated the need to ensure a swift return to constitutional order through the completion of elections. The group also called on the Haitian Parliament to resume the session of the National Assembly to decide on provisional governance arrangements in accordance with the February 5 Agreement.

Under the terms of the February 5 agreement, Parliament had to elect an interim president for a term of 120 days and confirm a consensus prime minister. Mr Privert was appointed to the role of President and a second round of the 2015 election had been scheduled for April 24, with the intention that a new president would then have been installed on May 14, 2016. However, these dates were not observed for a mix of political and administrative reasons.

The announcement of an October 2016 date means that if a single presidential candidate does not emerge with a clear overall majority, under the Haitian electoral system a second round will have to take place on January 8, 2017 with the final election results be published on January 30, next year.

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s leading weekly editorially independent publication, Caribbean Insight, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in the Caribbean and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in the Caribbean find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region.

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