Haiti: protests greet dubious election results

On the evening of Dec. 7 Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the preliminary results of presidential and legislative elections held on Nov. 28. The elections had been chaotic and sometimes violent, and the majority of the presidential candidates denounced the process as fraudulent even before the polls closed.

According to the CEP, former senator Myrlande Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) led with 31.37% of the votes, followed by Jude CĂ©lestin (Unity), the candidate backed by current president RenĂ© PrĂ©val, with 22.48%. Popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response) came in a close third with 21.84%, and Jean Henry CĂ©ant (Love Haiti), former lawyer for ex-president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) was fourth with 8.18%. The remaining candidates each received less than 5% of the vote. If the results are confirmed on Dec. 20, Manigat and CĂ©lestin will face each other in a runoff on Jan. 16.

Two of the 11 Senate races in contention were settled in the first round, with one victory going to the candidate of PrĂ©val’s Unity party. Unity candidates will be in the runoffs for the remaining nine seats. There were 18 victors in the voting for the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, eight of them from Unity, which will have 58 candidates in the runoffs for the other 81 seats. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Dec. 7)

The announcement of the preliminary results set off three days of militant protests, many of them by Martelly supporters who felt he was fraudulently denied the second place. Thousands of protesters blocked streets with barricades and burning tires, paralyzing economic activity in Port-au-Prince and many other cities. Stores were burned or vandalized, and at least five people were killed in confrontations between protesters and police or between different political groups. The protests finally seemed to slow down on Dec. 10 in what reporters described as a “tense calm,” but banks, schools and larger stores remained closed in Port-au-Prince. (AlterPresse, Dec. 9; Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Dec. 10)

The intensity of the demonstrations may have resulted more from anger over the broader situation—the military occupation by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the rapidly spreading cholera epidemic, the situation of the 1.3 million people still homeless 11 months after the Jan. 12 earthquake—than from interest in the elections themselves. Just 22.87% of Haiti’s 4.7 million voters turned out on Nov. 28, according to the CEP’s disputed preliminary count. Edmond Mulet, the Guatemalan diplomat who is acting head of MINUSTAH, reportedly hoped for 40%.

The leading candidates were mostly conservative or centrist. Manigat, whose husband was president for four months in 1987 before being removed by a military coup, campaigned largely around changing the Constitution to allow dual citizenship for the many Haitians living in the US. CĂ©lestin was expected to follow PrĂ©val’s centrist policies, while Martelly’s political positions were unclear. (Radio Canada, Dec. 7, some from AFP and Reuters)

The only leading candidate with significant support from left-of-center groups was CĂ©ant. Former president Aristide’s populist Lavalas Family (FL) was barred from running, but three important members of the FL directorate–Euvonie Auguste, Jacques Matelier and RenĂ© Civil—announced their support for CĂ©ant on Oct. 19, saying that thousands of Lavalas supporters would vote for him. (FL coordinator Maryse Narcisse said on Oct. 18 that FL was supporting no candidate, and Aristide himself, in exile in South Africa, had made no statement.) (Agence HaĂŻtienne de Presse, Haiti, Oct. 19) On Oct. 27 Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the spokesperson for the Papaye Peasant Movement (MMP), based in the Central Plateau, officially endorsed CĂ©ant. The MPP is one of the country’s largest peasant groups; Jean-Baptiste and FL are longtime opponents. (Radio Kiskeya, Oct. 27)

Much of the left, like many voters, stayed clear of the elections. On the weekend of Dec. 4 the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”) issued a statement rejecting any elections held under military occupation. “The electoral process can’t escape this simple logic. The imperialists are the ones who financed it and organized it, and due to the extreme weakness of the [Haitian] ruling classes and profound incapacity of the reactionary government, they are the ones who actually direct it.” The group concluded that “under occupation, nothing democratic and progressive can be accomplished.” The statement charged that none of the presidential candidates had even taken a position on the presence of MINUSTAH troops. (Adital, Brazil, Dec. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 12.

See our last post on the Haitian elections.