The second round of Haiti's presidential election is in full swing. The candidates, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly, are both drawing large crowds at their rallies. The blogosphere is abuzz about which candidate deserves to win and several key political figures and organizations have endorsed their favorite candidate.
Despite the election’s steady progress, several local and international organizations, including Fanmi Lavalas, insist that the elections scheduled for March 20 are illegal. These groups are lobbying for an annulment of the November election results. They demand that Haiti hold new elections that would include the Fanmi Lavalas party.
In making their argument for new elections, they point to several factors:
● The elections were rushed and post earth-quake Haiti was in no position to organize elections.
● There was widespread fraud on election day, which raises questions about the official results.
● There was low voter turnout as several popular political parties either boycotted or were excluded in the elections and therefore a significant portion of the population have not had an opportunity to voice their opinion.
● The official results came about only because the international community pressured the electoral council (CEP) to disqualify Jude Celestin, the preferred candidate of President Rene Preval, which is a violation of Haitian sovereignty.
Each of these are valid arguments. However, the call for a do-over of the first round of elections is misguided and shortsighted. The most important question is not whether or not the elections were flawed but rather, is a re-election in Haiti’s best interest?
Prolonging a political crisis until we have flawless elections is a strategy that has been tried before and has already proven to be detrimental to Haiti’s progress.
One such example is the political deadlock that existed in Haiti in the early 2000s. Then, just like now, Rene Preval was the outgoing president. There was clear evidence that the ruling party, Fanmi Lavalas, manipulated the election results to benefit their candidates. This in turn led to a disagreement among CEP members as to which candidates should move on to a run-off. Several opposition parties called into question the legitimacy of the whole process and demanded a new round of elections, organized by a new and independent CEP. Nevertheless, Preval and his government scheduled the next round of elections. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was then elected as the next president.
Several coalition parties came together as one entity to form Convergence Democratique to be in a better position to fight what they perceived as egregious violations of basic democratic principles. They called for Aristide to step down and for new elections to be held. This led to the United States and several other countries to withhold financial aid to Haiti until the crisis was resolved.
The stalemate continued until Aristide was overthrown by an armed insurrection in 2004. In the end, there were no winners and the biggest loser was Haiti. Its economy and fragile infrastructure was left in shambles.
In many ways, Haiti is still recovering from the effects of the crisis brought about by the flawed elections of 2000. Which is why I cringe whenever I hear members the Fanmi Lavalas party and their allies continue to call for new elections. With more than a million people still living in tents and the streets of Port-au-Prince and several other large cities still digging out of rubble caused by last year’s devastating earthquake the country cannot afford another prolonged political crisis.
Moreover, suspending the elections would be an affront on those who voted on November 28. In a country like Haiti that is still learning how to be a democracy, we should respect the more than one million citizens who chose to participate in the democratic process.
Yes, the first round of elections was flawed. However, holding a run-off on March 20 is the country’s best hope to move forward.
Reginald Toussaint is an educator. He is originally from Port-au-Prince and visits home as often as possible. He currently lives in Dorchester, MA with his wife and daughter. He blogs on Haitian issues here.