As an individual who is at the apex of symbolic political power, President Michel Martelly lacks sufficient material and procedural power to be an effective president, even if his desire is to truly transform Haiti. He is removed from the sphere of power itself, which is that of a political party within the chamber of parliamentary power where deals are made on a basis of give and take, or at its worst, plain political corruption instituted in the Haitian body politic. Given the level of material damage, and the absence of institutions that are needed to bolster democracy and sustainable growth in the country, one would think that the political class would rise above the morass that has dragged Haiti into the political and economic gutter and try to create a new political atmosphere for the safeguarding of the nation. Instead, the arrogance expressed by Martelly and members of Parliament has increased the repugnancy of Haitian politics.
To say that Haiti has a faltering government would simply be an understatement. Nonetheless, to many, it qualifies as a democracy by virtue of its nominal free market, assumed free and fair elections, supposed free press and legal due process. Though students and scholars of contemporary democracies have agreed that a functioning and sustainable democratic society requires three fundamental processes:
(1. an open political process with the supremacy of the law at its core, along with regulated limitation of power; 2. an equitable economic process through which a viable middle class plays a thoughtful role between the rich and the poor and; 3. a common sense based ideology rooted in the values of equality and freedom) -- Haiti is indeed lacking and therefore true democracy has yet to be achieved. What’s needed more than anything, are independent and relatively uncorrupt institutions that can build capacity of governance and support political institutions.
If Michel Joseph Martelly, a popular crotch-grabbing singer turned president, understood the concept of democracy -- or at least appreciated the political processes within a legal framework -- he could potentially have avoided some of the mistakes his predecessors made, namely, by making promises that they could not or would not keep. President Martelly instead fell into the same political trappings by making assurances that required not only financial independence, but also and more importantly,
the existence of functional institutions that could render his proposed policies possible. Haiti is neither economically independent nor is it institutionally viable to a point that it is able to deliver on promises such as free education for all. Martelly is a political novice who has never been part of a functional institution that might have imparted procedural discipline. His brief passage through the Haitian military academy ended in his ousting, and his successes have been sorely limited to ventures that have nothing to do with his current political and civic responsibilities.
As the famous sociologist Max Weber reminds us: “Party-oriented social action, …always implies association. This is because the party is always involved in striving toward projected goals, be they material in nature, implementing a program for ideal or material purposes, or personal sinecures, power, and as a consequence, honor for the leader and followers.” Without a political party, Martelly’s weak political platform is in no position to impose the will of the executive, especially as he has alienated his political opponents who now serve as senators, deputies and members of the powerful Provisional Electoral Counsel (CEP).
The political arrogance that President Martelly displayed from the moment of his electoral victory to his ascension to the executive office did not bode well with members of the opposition party. Members of the Unity faction proved resentful of Martelly’s one-man-show because it seemed to play counter to the consultative politics prescribed by the Haitian Constitution that calls for a bicameral representative democracy. According to article 137 of the constitution, the President, if he is without a majority in Parliament, chooses his prime minister in consultation with the presidents of both chambers.
As a consequence of Martelly’s do-it-alone political outsider persona, and as one who regularly consults with the international community (particularly with former US president Bill Clinton), before he does with members of the parliament, Senator Joseph Lambert, the Unity party director and a stick in the wheel-type of a politician, declared on May 5, 2011, that President-elect Martelly was “a threat against the state and members of parliament… He will have problems with majority group in Parliament.”
A political stalemate has since occurred; there has been a systematic rejection of two of the President’s nominated prime ministers by the recalcitrant parliament, and the President is clearly in a position of weakness in terms of procedural politics. Compromise is therefore the only viable option as he attempts to achieve his lofty goals.
By holding the prime ministerial post hostage, members of parliament are dangerously generating political time bombs that are potentially implosive. This unfortunately is occurring during a time of national crisis, when the country is on life support, and just around the corner lurks coarse dictatorship. While many are calling for compromise, others would like to see “bad boy Micky” hit the pavement with his supporters so that they can deploy the old Haitian mantra of a “strong man” politic to the corrupt politicians. Again, democracy remains fragmented as the nation is on economic and social life-support.
At this juncture, after 25 years of an unending democratic transition that saw the exile of a dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, and his return, what is needed within the Haitian dysfunctional realm of power is some form of an accountable partnership to start the so-called “reconstruction” process that was scheduled to fully start under Martelly’s presidency.
I am not at all advocating that President Martelly get a political carte blanche, however, the entrenched hostility to his presidency from the outset is certainly not beneficial to the future of Haiti and the millions of destitute people throughout the country. The president should be held accountable for his actions, particularly for his combative speech delivered in Port-au-Prince on May 5th, 2011, when he warned the CEP to “clean its electoral notebook” because the people wanted “clean results.” From the outset of Martelly’s presidency, the tone of political failure was chiming given the fact that Haiti has a parliamentary democracy and former president Rene Préval’s Unity Party is in the majority in both chambers of Parliament.
At the same time, Parliament should also respect its parameters and be made responsive to its constituents who are not being served the way they ought to be in a representative democracy. While President Martelly’s grandiose dreams to make improvements to the environment, education, employment and equity are to be lauded and are both necessary and critical issues for the nation to tackle, his timeframe and means of delivery were purely predicated on a dream. He simply repeated what supporters of Bill Clinton’s foundation, including Wyclef Jean, propagated as part of their “Build Haiti New” slogan.
Unlike Préval, Martelly is constantly on the move - from Spain to the United States, between Cap-Haitien and Jacmel. He has taken part in numerous ribbon-cutting events and has met with several groups around the issues of education, technology, infrastructure and the environment. His active schedule gives the impression that he is a doer – however -- his active participation during the past 100 days were for projects that had begun under former president Préval. His activity is highly visible and appears quite impressive in comparison to the moribund Préval, though the costs and funding for these trips have yet to be disclosed. This is a troubling consideration given the fact that thousands remain under shabby tents and continue to survive in inadequate living conditions.
On the 30th of August 2011, with Bill Clinton, standing behind him and wielding the power of the purse, President Martelly confidently announced his third choice for prime minister, Dr. Garry Conille. Conille, a trained physician and researcher at Columbia University, worked as a resident coordinator for the United Nations in Haiti. But perhaps most importantly, he served as the UN Mission Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton. Given the omnipotence of both the UN and Bill Clinton in Haiti, it is not surprising that several senators are now beginning to hint at compromise. If Garry Conille fails to be confirmed by parliament, then the political obscurity that has gripped Haiti’s past may return under the cloak of a strongman who “wants to do for the people” but is being “politically blockaded”. The game of power being played is too risky for Haiti’s weak democracy. The democratic demagoguery that the Haitian political class has been displaying must come to an end.
Patrick Sylvain is an instructor of Haitian Language and Culture at Brown University.