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Haiti Politics

The decades that followed independence set a pattern that enshrined the use of violent force to achieve political objectives, punish political opponents, and ensure economic dominance by a tiny elite based in Port-au-Prince. Consequently, Haiti has never developed a civic culture -- widespread acceptance of the rule of law and institutions strong enough to enforce laws and legal decisions -- to replace the exercise of violence as a means to political power. Haiti has faced considerable instability deriving from a potent amalgam of factors, including deep poverty, social vulnerability, food insecurity, environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS, drug trafficking, organized crime, and institutional weaknesses of the Haitian government.

Although François Duvalier came to power through elections in 1957, he lost all credibility because of a fraudulent re-election in 1961, a rigged referendum in 1964 that confirmed him as Haiti's president for life, and the severe and unrelenting repression he dealt out, primarily through the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale--VSN), or tonton makouts (bogeymen). Duvalier ("Papa Doc") extended his illegitimate rule beyond his death by naming his son JeanClaude ("Baby Doc") as his successor.

Jean-Claude Duvalier came to power in 1971, under the informal regency of his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier, and a small inner circle of Duvalierists. As Jean-Claude matured and began to assert his power independently of his mother and her advisers, some minor reforms in Haitian life took place. By the late 1970s, Jean-Claude had restored some freedom of the press and had allowed the formation of fledgling opposition political parties as well as the organization of a human rights league. This brief period of liberalization, however, ended with the arrest and the expulsion of a number of union leaders, journalists, party activists, and human-rights advocates in November 1980.

New outbreaks of popular unrest shattered Duvalier's plans, however, and he was eventually forced into exile in February 1986. The popular revolt, known in Creole as operation déchoukaj (operation uprooting), sought to destroy the foundations of Duvalierism. Its strikes and mass demonstrations reflected the Duvalier regime's general loss of support.

From February 7, 1986 -- when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended -- until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In March 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected, bicameral parliament; an elected president that serves as head of state; and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers, and supreme court appointed by the president with parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provides for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.

Haiti is a land with too many people for the remaining natural resources. Its forests have been cut down and its topsoil washed into the sea. To the outside world, its name has become synonymous with "boat people" and voodoo. It is a land of hunger, poverty, pride, and beauty. Haiti is acknowledged as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

On one side are the vast majority of citizens, mostly poor and poorly educated, who have traditionally been denied participation in the political, economic, and social decisions which affect their lives; they have been the primary targets of government-ordered or government-supported violence. On the other side are the groups that participated in the Duvalier political system and benefited from its repression of the disenfranchised majority. These include land holders who have used the political system to gain control of Haiti's limited supply of fertile land; business owners who have benefited from a submissive work force and enjoyed monopoly control over various segments of the country's economy; and armed soldiers, section chiefs, militia, and Tontons Macoutes who wish to retain the trappings of their power and fear the accountability for past abuses that a new political order might impose on them.

In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by dissatisfied elements of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite. Following the coup, Aristide began a 3-year exile in the US. Several thousand Haitians may have been killed during the de facto military rule. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued boat people from the previous 10 years combined.

The United States led a U.N.-sponsored multinational force to the country in 1994. The mission was to get Haiti's military dictatorship to step down and restore to power Haiti's constitutionally elected government - led by President Jean- Bertrand Aristide. The United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti to restore Mr. Aristide to power after he was ousted by a coup. On Sept. 19, 1994, with U.S. troops already airborne, Haitian military dictator Gen. Raul Cedras and other top leaders agreed to step down. The intervening force, became an overseeing force and more than 21,000 service members from a number of countries helped with the restoration of the constitutional government. Aristide and other elected officials in exile returned to Haiti Oct. 15.

Haiti's political leaders failed to come to agreement on a prime minister and failed to resolve the contested April 1997 elections. That crisis turned from bad to worse when the parliament voted in November 1998 to extend its own term and President Preval responded by refusing to recognize the decision. A constitutional crisis erupted in January 1999 when President Preval refused to recognize the vote and announced he would rule by electoral decree. The parliament responded by charging Preval with trying to rule as a dictator. Haiti had been without a prime minister since June 1997, and the parliament had failed to ratify a successor. Eventually, the dispute was resolved after negotiations between an informal group of political parties called the Espace de Concertation.

Political instability grew throughout fall 2003. On February 29, 2004 Aristide submitted his resignation as President of Haiti and flew on a chartered plane to the Central African Republic. Boniface Alexandre, President (chief justice) of Haiti's Supreme Court, assumed office as interim President in accordance with Haiti's constitution. On recommendation from the Council of Elders, the President chose Gerard Latortue as interim Prime Minister.

As in many developing countries, radio reaches the widest audience in Haiti. Estimates vary, but more than 300 radio stations are believed to broadcast throughout the country. Talk show programs serve as one of the few ways in which ordinary Haitians can speak out about politics and the government. A law passed in 1997 declares the airwaves to be the property of the government, but at least 133 unlicensed radio stations operate freely. In addition, there are 50 community-based stations throughout the country.

Television is available only to a minority of relatively wealthy households. Two television stations serve approximately 42,000 households that have television receivers. Satellite stations from foreign countries are available in Haiti, but only to those with the expensive equipment necessary to receive them. Haiti's three French-language newspapers have a total circulation of less than 20,000. Small, Creole-language newspapers are printed irregularly.

Haiti's political situation has improved in recent years, but remains fragile. The uncertainty that periodic vacancies in the prime minister’s position, cabinet changes, and infighting in Parliament created has hindered both reconstruction efforts and passage of important legislation. However, political violence is rare, and recent statistics suggest increasing capacity of law enforcement officials to deter and prosecute violent crime.

There have been no recent cases of political groups targeting foreign projects and/or installations. Historically, politically motivated civil disorder, such as periodic demonstrations and labor strikes, sometimes interrupted normal business operations. Land invasions by squatters are a problem in both urban and rural areas, and requests for help to law enforcement authorities often go unanswered.

Demonstrations are frequent in Port-au-Prince and other outlying areas for various reasons, to include dissatisfication of infrastructure and utilities to disapproval of Haitian government entities or UN presence. Any demonstration is capable of turning violent, and innocent bystanders or travelers can be caught up in a clash, rock throwing, and tire burning road blocks between demonstrators and the HNP.

Violent political protests occur regularly in downtown Port-au-Prince around the National Palace, the Champ de Mars, and the State University campuses, along with sporadic incidents scattered throughout the city. These protests had been frequent, averaging multiple incidents per week since mid-2009 and with 360 total in 2011. The demonstrations have been motivated by a wide-variety of political and social movements, ranging from minimum wage to school curriculum to the presence of UN forces in the country to cholera response and the Haitian presidential elections. They share a common trend in that protestors are quick to barricade streets and regularly stone the windows of passing motorists’ vehicles.

While the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), deployed in Haiti since 2004, supports the activities of the Haitian National Police (HNP), their numbers decreased during 2015 as mandated by the UN Security Council. The HNP, with assistance from MINUSTAH, is responsible for maintaining order and rendering assistance.

Election - 2015

On March 12, 2015 Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council set a date for the delayed legislative elections that had been a source of political contention. The vote for 20 members of the Senate and 118 members of the Chamber of Deputies would be August 9, the council announced. The presidential election would be held on October 25. If no candidate receives more than half of the votes, a runoff would be held on December 27.

It took a long time, unfortunately, to get to the point of having elections taking place because of a variety of disagreements among the key political actors in Haiti. Haitians voted in the first legislative elections in more than three years on 09 August 2015, in a test of stability for the country. More than 1,800 candidates from dozens of parties were running, and preliminary results were expected in six to 10 days. The voting was marred by clashes at some polling places, including in the capital, Port-au-Prince. At other sites, voters had to wait for hours after the polls were due to open, and in some cases were given extra time.

After these elections took place the US made its views quietly known to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), to the executive, encouraging the CEP to take some additional steps to improve the processes that were in place and working with the government to get them to urge the police to be a little more proactive in their securing of the voting sites and getting police out to the sites a little bit earlier so they could get to know the terrain, the people involved, etc.

The electoral council is largely seen to be influenced by the United States and was the target of protests over the weekend demanding the resignation of the director and the implementation of independent oversight. The United States paid US$31 million to support the electoral process, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had repeatedly been accused of meddling both in the 2010 elections and in post-hurricane political reconstruction.

Haitians voted 25 October 2015 for a new president from more than 50 candidates running for the country's top office, as well as casting ballots for lawmakers and local officials. There were 54 presidential candidates going forward, an unprecedented number, which added a level of complexity to the entire process. The elections on October 25 were a marked improvement over what took place in August. The preliminary results, at least of the presidential race were announced on 05 November 2015. The results were of Jovenel Moïse coming in first place with around 32-33% of the vote, and Jude Célestin coming in second place with 25%. Moïse Jean Charles came in third place with about 12%. The Lavalas candidate Dr. Maryse Narcisse, a physician who had the backing of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, came in fourth with 7%. Lavalas remains popular amonst Haiti's impoverished majority. Election observers said the vote was largely free of major problems and the violence that had plagued parliamentary elections in August.

A runoff presidential vote was scheduled in December 2015 between the top two candidates. Two people emerged as serious contenders in the race -- Jude Celestin, who was eliminated from the second round in the controversial 2010 vote following an OAS recount. A banana plantation owner and the former head of Haiti's government construction agency will face off against each other in Haiti's presidential runoff 27 December 2015. The 47-year-old of Bald Heads - named in honor of the outgoing president - would face 53-year-old Jude Celestin of the Alternative League for Progress and Emancipation of Haiti.

Jovenel Moise, the 47-year-old candidate of current President Michel Martelly’s Parti Haitien Tet Kale (PHTK), was born in the countryside of Haiti from a modest family of farmers, and studied Educational Sciences in the capital Port au Prince, succeeding as a businessman in the banana industry. He promised to revive agriculture in Haiti and improve education. He also aimed to put Haiti on the financial map by improving tourism and exports. Another proposal was to improve security and strengthen justice to restore the rule of law.

Second place in the presidential race was held by Jude Celestin from the opposition League for Progress and Haitian Emancipation (LAPEH). This is the second time that the 53-year-old engineer was running for president. He was the runner-up in the 2010 presidential elections and although he has been absent in politics for the past five years, he enjoyed great popularity among Haitians. Celestine was largely supported by former President Rene Preval and claimed that if elected, his government would give priority to job creation, rationalization of government expenditure and the fight against corruption. A poll released 19 November 2015 showed that up to 90 percent of Haitians have deep suspicions of the recent elections in the country, while opposition supporters continued to protest in the streets, calling the elections a fraud. The poll was conducted by an independent Brazil-based research group called Igarape. The company did two separate polls to measure public confidence in the elections. The first on the day of the Oct. 25 election and the second on Nov. 5, after the preliminary results were announced. After the first poll, 82 percent of Haitians polled said they agreed with the statement, “As far as I can see, this election is fair, there is no fraud.” However, in the second round of polling almost 90 percent of those approached said they believed the opposite.

The poll also found that when asked who of the 54 candidates they voted for, just over 6 percent of Haitians said they voted for the government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise, which would have placed him fourth in the running. Critics viewed his sudden ascent to prominence with suspicion, suggesting Martelly was trying to keep a hand in the government after he left office by using Moise as his proxy.

A group of eight candidates in the November 2015 disputed presidential vote demanded changes in Haiti's electoral council and national police department. Among those signing the 28 November 2015 declaration was Jude Celestin, the second-place finisher who was due to face the government-backed candidate, Jovenel Moise, in the 27 December 2015 runoff. The third-place finisher, former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, belongs to the opposition alliance. The fourth-place finisher, Maryse Narcisse of the Fanmi Lavalas party founded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was not a member of the alliance.

Rights groups say the first-round vote was so plagued with irregularities and alleged vote-rigging that they had no confidence in the official results that put the previously obscure government-backed candidate finishing first.

Efforts by stakeholders included the establishment of an electoral evaluation commission on 16 December to address the concerns of opposition parties and ensure the successful and timely conclusion of the presidential elections. According to press reports, the run-off had been set for 27 December between Jovenel Moise from the governing party and former government executive Jude Celestin, but the election has been postponed until further notice.

On 21 December 2015 Haiti's electoral authority postponed the presidential runoff vote. In a surprise statement just days before the 27 December 2015 presidential runoff election, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council said the vote would be pushed back. A new date was yet to be announced, though electoral officials have previously suggested the vote could be pushed back as far as early February 2016.

On January 03, 2016 an independent panel concluded that Haiti's president and parliamentary elections in October 2015 were marred by irregularities. The panel's report supported charges of fraud made by opposition presidential candidate Jude Celestin. Problems included ballots where the votes were crossed out, miscounting, and discrepancies in voter identification. Allegations of fraud led to street protests that forced officials to cancel the second round of voting.

It is unclear when the runoff will be held, but Haiti's constitution called for a new president to take office by February 7. On January 01, 2016 President Martelly announced that a postponed presidential runoff vote would be held on 17 January 2016, later delayed to 24 January 2016.

Campaigning for Haiti's presidential runoff election began 08 January 2016, with only one candidate participating, government-backed contender Jovenel Moise. The campaign team of the second-place finisher, Jude Celestin said he would take part in the runoff only if sweeping changes recently recommended by a special commission were adopted to improve Haiti's flawed electoral machinery.

Embattled Haitian President Michel Martelly left office 07 February 2016 as required by Haiti's constitution, ending his 5-year term with no one elected to replace him. Ahead of Martelly's departure, the former pop music star told lawmakers in Port-Au-Prince that he is leaving office "to contribute to constitutional normalcy." He then handed the reins of power to the leader of the heavily guarded national assembly, after an 11th hour deal under which lawmakers were expected to choose an interim president to take Martelly's place. Prime Minister Evans Paul was Haiti's temporary leader until the provisional president was chosen.

The presidential runoff vote was most recently rescheduled for April 24. The winner was set to take office in May.




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