It’s a crucial election season in Haiti. On October 25, Haitians will elect a new president, a parliament, and thousands of municipal posts, including mayors. Delayed since 2011, the first round of legislative elections took place on August 9. But with violence and intimidation at the polls, some 13 percent of polling stations were closed or faced interruptions and a mere 18 percent of voters cast their ballots, raising concerns about what’s in store for the October 25 elections.
AS/COA Online spoke with the senior vice president and Haiti expert at International Crisis Group, Mark Schneider, about what’s at stake for the country’s democratic process. “The real question is whether they’re going to learn from the experience,” said Schneider, “and put adequate forces, deploy them, in a way that ensures that voters can get to the polls and vote, and votes be counted.”
On October 14, the UN Security Council renewed its peacekeeping mandate in the country. The 2,370 troops and 2,061 police of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, have specific instructions to support the Haitian National Police on election day. Moreover, these forces will stay for at least a year, which “gives a certain degree of confidence that the transition to a new government will take place in a relatively stable environment,” said Schneider.
In the race for president, some 54 candidates launched bids, making a December 27 runoff a likely scenario. The new president will have to face stagnant economic growth, the fact that 60,000 remain displaced by the earthquake, and ongoing effects of a cholera outbreak that has killed 8,850 people. While disbursement of international aid has not been without challenges, Schneider notes it’s necessary. “It’s a catch 22,” he said, highlighting in particular the lack of infrastructure. “When you go into rural Haiti, you believe it’s two centuries ago. It desperately needs support from the international donors and the international financial institutions to help develop the infrastructure that will then enable the economic development to take place.”