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2014 Election Blog: Haiti's October Legislative Elections in Doubt

Voters look for their name on an election day. (Image: AP) 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Though Haiti’s president set a fall election date for legislative and municipal elections, disagreements in the country’s National Assembly could mean further delays for the vote. Postponed since 2011, Haiti’s elections are needed not only to renew expiring seats at the local and national level, but also to address concerns about balance of power and unease from international partners. Should the vote move ahead, Haitians will elect 20 senators, 99 deputies, and 140 municipal positions

On June 10, Haiti’s President Michel Martelly issued a decree to hold the elections on October 26. This date came as a result of the so-called El Rancho Accord, made after a series of talks among political parties, politicians, and members of the church and civil society earlier this year. But the accord awaits the parliament’s approval, which could prove difficult.

Currently, the Senate remains deadlocked on the accord. Some legislators disagree with Article 12, which allows elections to move ahead even if parliament does not sign the new electoral law within 10 days of the agreement. Opponents of the accord say this allows the president to skirt legislative approval to hold the vote. Plus, Senate President Simon Desras claims Martelly has had disproportionate influence in appointing members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which will carry out the election.

Indeed, disagreements about the CEP, an independent body in charge of elections, have kept elections from advancing. The rift dates back to a 2010 constitutional reform adopted two years later that changed how council members would be chosen. Each of the three government branches—the executive branch, the Supreme Court, and the National Assembly—could now nominate three members to the CEP. Previously, Article 289 of the Constitution mandated a set of nine civil institutions to make the appointments. Some parliament members say the CEP created by the El Rancho Accord should follow the original constitutional provision instead of empowering the three branches of government.

The elections are critical given the state of the National Assembly and local governments. The 30-seat Senate is functioning without a third of its members, as 10 senatorial seats expired in January 2012. As a result, the upper house has been unable to reach quorum for the past two years. Also in 2012, the terms of about 130 mayors—all the municipal offices in the country—expired. To replace these local leaders, Martelly appointed “municipal agents” in their stead, raising questions about the executive branch’s power in the absence of elections. In 2015, another 10 senators’ terms will expire, as will the terms of all 99 deputies in the lower house. If elections are not held by the end of this year, only 10 senators will be left in the entire National Assembly, and Martelly would rule by decree.

In addition, international partners have expressed concern about the delayed vote. In January 2013, the top United Nations official in Haiti urged the country to carry out elections by the end of that year, and last April, the United States warned it could withhold $300 million in aid unless the vote takes place.