Haiti's 1987 constitution establishes a semi-presidential system of government that divides power among a president, who serves as chief of state; a prime minister, who serves as head of government; a bicameral legislature (the National Assembly); and regional assemblies.
Haiti is a democratic republic composed of 10 administrative divisions, also called departments. These 10 departments are further divided into arrondissements, which are further divided into communes. In total, there are 41 arrondissements and 144 communes. The Government of Haiti is based upon a prime minister and a president where the prime minister is head of the government and the president is head of state.
Executive power is held by the president and the prime minister. Haiti traditionally has had a strong presidency. The president serves a five-year term and may not serve consecutive terms. The president may only have two non-sequential terms. The president is elected by popular vote and the prime minister is appointed by the president, then ratified by the National Assembly. Members of the cabinet form the executive branch are chosen by the prime minister with input from the president. The cabinet, composed of the prime minister and the 15 ministry heads, advises the president, serving at his pleasure. The president shares power with the prime minister, who is nominated by the president and approved by the legislature.
Legislative power is entrusted to the National Assembly, which consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Senate seats are elected by an absolute majority vote through a two-round system, and the 119 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are elected through an absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies. Parliament consists of two houses and the prime minister runs the government. The 83-seat Chamber of Deputies and 27-seat Senate form the Haitian legislature, known as the National Assembly. Popularly elected deputies serve four-year terms. Senators serve six-year terms, with one-third of the body being elected every two years. Each department elects three senators. Members of both houses are directly elected and may serve consecutive terms.
The 11-member Supreme Court (or Court of Cassation) operates at the apex of Haiti's judicial system. At the lowest level, justices of the peace issue arrest warrants, adjudicate minor offenses, mediate disputes, and take depositions. Courts of the first instance hear more serious or complicated cases. Appeals from the courts of first instance go before one of the country's 30 appeals courts. The Supreme Court serves as the final arbiter on legal and constitutional questions. A separate court in Port-au-Prince handles labor issues.
Haiti has nine departments: Artibonite, Centre, Grand' Anse, Nord, Nord-Est, Nord-Ouest, Ouest, Sud, and Sud-Est. Before leaving office, President Aristide signed a bill creating a tenth department, but the measure has been awaiting publication since November 2003 and thus had not yet become law as of 2005.
Below the federal level, Haiti has a complicated and decentralized system of regional and local governance. Haiti's nine departments are divided into 41 districts, which are further divided into 133 municipalities (called communes). Further dividing the municipalities, 565 communal sections (sections communales) exist - roughly equivalent to towns in the United States. Regular elections occur on each level. The communal sections elect a representative council; each of the municipalities elects both a three-member municipal council and a municipal assembly. At the department level, the democratically elected departmental assembly passes legislation, and the departmental council (chosen by the assembly) enforces it.
In each district there is an elected Administrative Board and a local assembly. A mayor and a municipal assembly head each township. Each department has a departmental assembly and there is also an interdepartmental assembly. The great innovation of the constitution of 1987 is the creation of assemblies in each district as counter parts to the Boards of Directors and the Mayors' offices.
At the local level there are mayors, Administration of Communal Sections (ASEC), Boards of Directors of Communal Sections (CASEC), and city delegates. There are 570 three-member CASECs (one member must be a woman) to be elected by communal sections by simple majority for a four-year term. CASECs are the administrators of the local government and make decisions on development and execution of projects. The members of an ASEC are elected for a four-year term by simple majority. ASECs plays an advisory role to CASECs on communal section projects to be supported and budget proposals, and it is an organ for the participation of civil society. The ASEC members do not have an office, so they meet once per trimester at CASEC offices. The number of ASEC and city delegate members depends on the number of registered voters in the constituency: five for 10,000 or less registered voters, seven for 10,001-20,000 and nine for over 20,000. City delegates are the representatives of urban communal section. They are elected for a four-year term by simple majority.
Haiti's constitution calls for an independent judiciary to interpret the country's laws, which are based on the Napoleonic Code. The criminal code dates to 1832, although some amendments have been made. The constitution guarantees defendants the right to a fair public trial, including the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial, to present witnesses and evidence in their own defense, and to confront witnesses against them. In practice, however these rights are often denied. Moreover, the government is not required to provide free counsel, and many Haitians cannot afford representation on their own. The judiciary, like most of the government, suffers from widespread corruption. Threats of violence often render judges and juries unable to make impartial decisions. Bribes not only sway judges but also taint potential witnesses. In addition to corruption, the judicial system suffers from shortages of both funding and qualified personnel. The combination of corruption and inefficiency has resulted in a serious backlog of criminal cases and an overflow in the country's jails. Nearly 80 percent of incarcerated men and women still await their initial trail, despite some effort in 2005 to reduce pretrial detention.
All Haitians 18 years of age or older have the right to vote. According to the constitution, elections should occur in Haiti at least every two years, to fill the presidency, legislature, or local offices. Violence, however, has made this schedule impossible since 2004 and at previous times in Haiti's history. Presidential elections are to be held every five years, but few presidents have reached the end of their terms. Coups frequently have upset the electoral schedule. Elections to choose a new president and parliament were held in Feburary 2006.
Electoral law requires that legislative candidates receive more than 50 percent of the vote in order to win office during the first round of elections. If no candidate for a seat wins more than 50 percent, a run-off election occurs. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Electoral Provisoire?CEP) oversees all electoral activities. Although nominally independent, the CEP is routinely subjected to political manipulation by the party in power. During the February 2006 elections, the CEP was widely criticized for its initial decision to count an unusually large number of blank ballots, which would have denied René Préval the majority needed for a first-round victory. Facing international criticism and domestic protests, the CEP later reversed itself and declared Préval the first-round winner. The second round of the parliamentary elections was held on April 21, 2006, without incident.
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