“Let us learn together and laugh together and work together and pray together, confident that in the end we will triumph together in the right.” — Jimmy Carter, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1977
All republics that embrace democracy as a form of political governance are constantly faced with a daunting challenge. They must determine how best to appease the desires, and address the needs of the people, within the boundaries of the evolving state so that all groups can be brought into the political sphere. In other words, these states must consistently meet the demands of the citizenry.
For various political and economic reasons, the Republic of Haiti was never able to meet the needs of the nation. The state has never fully evolved into a constructive governing entity with replicable institutions that encourage participatory citizenships. In a sense, the Haitian body or entity which consist of: the nation with its citizens that are barely able to participate in ranges of civic activities, due to political and economical constraints, cannot be regarded as constituting the norms of a nation. There is the state, the axis of power, that tends to attract anti-nation elements, characters who parade their egos as barons of the state instead of servants of the people. Thus in such a non-integral society, the nation and the state have been locked in a perpetual struggle for existence, because of a crisis-driven mode of existence that has consumed political creativity, vision and the mere possibility of being a democratic republic.
Haiti limps through the weighty sludge of history and is repeatedly hammered by catastrophe. The January 12th earthquake was a monumental reminder to the world that the nation still grapples with significant political and social dilemmas; and its condition lies in stark contrast to the neighboring nation-states that have incrementally achieved stability and relative freedom through progressively meeting the demands of their citizens. Haiti’s pendulum of progress, however, intermittently swings only slightly forward; its regressive sway always tends to leave it a few marks behind.
So then, as a republic in crisis, what importance can be assigned to the upcoming elections as Haiti, with its nerve center collapsed, teetering on the rim of the abyss? Since 1804, Haiti has suffered consistent cycles of violence and chaos where political instability has consumed the nation, its hopes and aspirations. Yet despite this history and the recent disaster of January 2010, the impending elections appear to be insignificant.
If these elections could instead be regarded as an opportunity to give birth to a new democracy and position the nation as a phoenix of hope, Haitians might come to embrace and rekindle the essence of citizenship and nationhood where national identity and visions are formed. However, these elections could also be the beginning of a miserable end if the nation continues to pursue the divisive politics de rigueur where the interests of the tiny minority reigns supreme over the needs, desires and demands of a deprived majority. Haiti could then continue to descend into its own abyss of selfishness, greed and instability.
We saw how quickly the jubilee of February 1986 turned into several years of despair as the Duvalier dictatorship was replaced by a succession of inept governments that sought only to solidify their power while neglecting the needs of the brutalized population. (In 2010, 60 percent of the population is still illiterate; only 8 percent of the population having direct access to clean water.) Consecutive coup d’états to overturn elections and mutual cheating of and by the political elite went unchecked until 2006. Stability still remains elusive due in part to the fact that during the first four years of the Préval government, natural catastrophes ravaged an ill-prepared and feeble nation that had been battling against itself for centuries.
For this vicious cycle to end, Haiti needs to embrace this election as if it was its last container of air, its last chance to adjust the forward swing on the pendulum of regression. Beyond having a democratically elected government, Haiti needs an executive leader who is capable of inspiring others to be leaders, regardless of political, racial, or class-based affiliations; inspire the nation to love itself and to move beyond helplessness and charity. This time should be viewed as an election of both reflection and action; a new beginning that welcomes forward-looking leadership that embraces social pluralism, equity, and institutional stability. We must finally seek out leadership that is responsive to the needs of the people, and foster a culture where people are mutually supportive of the nation. This period should be considered the social contract that we have never had, and should be regarded, simply, as a referendum against mediocrity and in support accountability and viable progress.
Patrick Sylvain is Instructor of Haitian Language and Culture at Brown University.