Haiti’s long-awaited, long-debated verification commission will soon see the light of day … maybe. “We have chosen the five members of the commission, a decree will be published shortly,” provisional President Jocelerme Privert told journalists during an April 20 press conference at the airport, shortly before leaving for a UN conference in New York. A verification commission has been a key demand of many civil society organizations, human rights figures and political parties, which for months have called for an investigation into electoral fraud. But the idea of verifying the vote has many powerful opponents, from former President Michel Martelly’s PHTK party and its allies in Parliament to the U.S. and other Core Group countries funding Haiti’s elections. And nearly a week after Privert’s announcement, the commission has still not been officially constituted.
The principal mission of a verification commission, according to the terms of reference submitted to Privert on April 14, is “to restore the confidence of political actors in the electoral process by establishing the credibility of the 2015 election results.” To do so, a five-member commission will perform an in-depth evaluation of the vote and the prior decisions of the Electoral Litigation Bureaus (BCED and BCEN). The commission will have 30 days to complete this task, and all the major political parties and civil society groups will have the right to observe its work.
Although the members of the commission have not been officially announced, Le Nouvelliste confirmed all five sectors have selected representatives: Erick Gaillard (representing the Order of Haitian Chartered Accountants); Marc Donald Jean (Anglican Church); Gédéon Jean (previous Evaluation Commission); Pierre Wilfrid Sanon (Haitian Association of Construction Enterprises); and François Benoit (previous CEPs). The Haitian Association of Construction Enterprises was given the task of nominating a representative after the National College of Haitian Engineers and Architects declined to participate in the commission.
Behind the scenes, the U.S. and other Core Group countries are reportedly demanding the right to veto any of the verification commission’s conclusions. During Privert’s absence from Haiti, foreign embassies have been stepping up pressure on interim Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles and parliamentarians to amend the commission’s terms of reference, which currently give the 5-person commission “the final word” on the fate of the elections, according to sources close to the Haitian government. The Core Group wants to be able to challenge any decision by the verification panel, which could ultimately lead to the cancellation of the presidential vote or some legislative races, the Miami Herald reported. Haiti’s major aid donors have cut off all non-humanitarian funding to the country and have previously suggested that funding for elections might be cut as well if the verification process is not to their satisfaction.
Opponents of Privert, both in parliament and in the streets, stepped up their verbal attacks on the interim president, decrying the missed deadline of April 24 and move toward verification as violations of the February 5 accord. Former President Michel Martelly’s PHTK party has begun aggressively mobilizing against the impending creation of a verification commission. PHTK spokesperson Rudy Hériveaux denounced the commission on April 16 as “a manipulation attempt” solely aimed at eliminating Jovenel Moïse from the race. On April 24, 2,000 pink-clad PHTK protesters marched to the CEP’s headquarters in Pétionville, calling for the final round of elections to be held as quickly as possible, without any verification.
Former President Martelly personally wrote to Privert on April 15, expressing his “shock” at the country’s inability to hold elections without international interference and accusing the interim authorities of attempting to make their temporary rule permanent. Martelly accused the Privert administration of pursuing a “broad, practically unlimited agenda that does not in any way correspond to its mandate.” Martelly seemed particularly concerned by a number of judicial orders issued by public prosecutor Danton Léger concerning drug trafficking and corruption charges against figures close to the Tet Kale government. Martelly characterized Léger’s initiatives as a vindictive campaign of “de-Martelly-ization” aiming to humiliate him and his political allies.
Intriguingly, Jude Célestin’s party LAPEH has also expressed growing hostility towards Privert, despite their stated support for verification. LAPEH coordinator Jean Hector Anacasis declared on April 22 that he was suspicious of Privert’s motives: “Nothing says that Mr. Privert will hold the elections. Nothing says that his true motivation isn’t a tabula rasa.” Anacasis roundly criticized the political makeup of Privert’s administration, and openly evoked the possibility that LAPEH supporters could soon be in the streets alongside PHTK if elections are not held soon. René Momplaisir, a popular organization leader who campaigned for Célestin, resigned from his post as political advisor to Privert, calling the government’s motives “obscure and incomprehensible.”
Privert and his spokepeople have shot back, placing the blame for delays on pro-Martelly parliamentarians who blocked the appointment of a Prime Minister. “The accord conferred on the electoral council the responsibility to evaluate the phases already completed,” Privert argued on April 20. “How can the credibility of the electoral process be guaranteed without this verification commission? How can the political stability of this country be guaranteed if we don’t organize credible elections?” Privert has also repeatedly reminded critics that only the CEP has the power to establish an electoral calendar.
The move towards verification means Haiti’s elections will not be held according to the deadlines set out in the February 5 political accord. April 24 was the date for when the final round of elections were supposed to be held, with the transfer of the presidential sash from Privert to an elected successor slated for May 14. Privert has announced that the CEP is expected to release the electoral calendar between May 15 and May 30, and suggested that elections may be held in late October, to sync up with the expiration of one-third of the Senate. The obvious irrelevance of the political agreement’s timetable and the looming end of Privert’s 120-day mandate (which expires on June 14) has led to calls from some sectors either for an extension of Privert’s mandate or for a negotiation of a new accord.
The U.S. and its allies in the international community, however, remain strongly opposed to both options. While visiting Miami on April 14, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Haiti’s interim government that the U.S. would tolerate the postponement of elections past April 24 only for a “minimal period of time.” “Let me be crystal clear,” Kerry said in an interview. “The Haitian players, the so-called leaders, need to understand there’s a clear limit to the patience, the willingness of the international community to condone this process of delay.” (Apparently unaware of Kerry’s recent statement, a group of three U.S. senators wrote a letter on April 15 urging Kerry to speak out in favour of quick elections.)
This hardline stance was reiterated by U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean during a visit to Haiti’s parliament on April 20, accompanied by the ambassadors of the EU, Germany, Spain and the UK. Mulrean claimed that the February 5 accord did not call for any verification, and said that the U.S. “fears that this commission could be used not only for a technical verification but to pursue a political agenda.” Mulrean met with Chamber of Deputies President Cholzer Chancy (a Privert opponent) and explained that the visit was motivated by a “certain frustration” with Haiti’s political situation. In a statement released on April 25, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed his “deep concern” over the missed April 24 elections date set out in the accord and called for the completion of the elections “without further delay.” While noting the proposed verification commission, the Secretary General emphasized “the need to conclude the process with the required urgency.”
Popular organizations and political parties that mobilized against electoral fraud after October 25 reacted with outrage to the international actors’ recent statements. On April 20, UNNOH, MOLEGHAF, Lakou, Cercle Gramci, and MODEP held a joint press conference to denounce the “arrogant declarations of certain diplomats and other foreign actors.” The popular organizations decried this foreign interference in Haiti’s domestic affairs as an affront to national dignity, and urged Haitians not to allow the foreign powers to impose leaders that would serve their interests while leaving the people in misery. “It’s the will of the people that will prevail, and not that of foreigners,” said UNNOH’s Josué Merilien.
Presidential candidate Moïse Jean Charles of Plateforme Pitit Dessalines wrote a letter to Barack Obama denouncing U.S. policy towards Haiti as based on a “flawed approach.” The letter stated that the crisis had been caused by the “complacency or complicity” of the international powers regarding Martelly’s corruption and his attempt to steal the elections. Jean-Charles, who finished in 3rd place according to the current results, later said that Privert should have already kicked out the foreign ambassadors for making such declarations, according to Radio Kiskeya. Serge Jean-Louis, leader of Mouvement patriotique populaire dessalinien (MOPOD), argued that the international community’s stance raised doubts about its role in the controversial 2015 elections.
One of the few voices among the international community in favour of verification is Sir Ronald Sanders. Even while expressing scepticism about scale of the fraud alleged in the October 25 elections, the Antiguan diplomat has nonetheless argued that verifying the vote is absolutely necesary.. “The reason for my conviction is precisely because there is a widespread and overwhelming belief in Haiti that the first-round elections were seriously flawed.” Drawing on his experience leading an OAS mission to Haiti tasked with facilitating a negotiated solution to electoral crisis, Sanders explained: “Among the over 50 groups with whom my team and I interfaced in Haiti in February, all except Martelly’s Parti Haïtien Tet Kale (PHTK) party, expressed concern; some stronger than others, but none without misgivings.” “If Jovenel Moïse and Jude Célestin ... have faith in their electability, they should have no fear of verification,” Sanders observed.
Sanders urged the international community to give Haiti’s interim authorities the time and resources it needs to conduct a credible verification. Without a verification, Sanders worried, the elections would inevitably produce a president lacking the legitimacy necessary to govern. “There can be no ‘quick fix’ in Haiti. Indeed, it is the urge for quick fixes in the past, and the desire to wash hands of the country, that has kept it in constant turmoil and retarded its chances for long-term political stability and economic growth.”