By Robert Maguire, Focus On Haiti Initiative, 21 November 2016.
If ever a country and its people needed a good day, it was Haiti and the Haitian people. Over the past two months, they have been battered by a monstrous hurricane and, more recently, by widespread flooding and mudslides. Over the past year, they have been subject to fraudulent elections and, when the country’s political, social, civic and economic leaders sought to rectify them, resistance and pressure to accept the election results status quo from external forces who ironically often present themselves as Haiti’s ‘friends.’ And, in the five years prior to those denigrating elections, the country and its people were subject to a government more known for organizing carnivals, engaging enthusiastically in debt-inducing political patronage and shady dealings, and disrespecting democratic process and practice than for leading the country to a stronger, more prosperous future.
It is through this lens that Sunday, November 20, 2016 was a very good day for Haiti. On that day, the bruised country held an election and determined citizens went to polling places around the country in what has been described by the head of the elections council as “a successful day… that unfolded in calm, serenity… and, in general… without violence.” Voters went to cast ballots for president, and in certain constituencies, for senators and lower chamber deputies engaged in a run-off election. Should no single candidate for the presidency receive more than 50% of Sunday’s votes, a presidential run-off between the two top vote getters is scheduled for January 29, 2017.
In view of the tepid and rather late support of Sunday’s reformed balloting by international actors (including the U.S.), Haitians who have chaffed for years over the dominant role outsiders have played in their political process must have a sense of vindication over Sunday’s ‘calm, serene’ outcome. Joining the interim government and its Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in relishing this absolution is the multitude of civil society, church, and business leaders who supported the push toward Haitian assertion of ‘ownership’ of its presidential election. Without doubt, Haitian ownership contributed significantly in the positive outcome on November 20th. Haitians all along the country’s socio-economic spectrum now had something to prove with this election. With determination and dignity they demonstrated that they can lead their own political process, and conduct – and pay for – their own elections. They must now be accorded all due respect for this important step in strengthening Haiti’s democratic process. After all, it must be asked, what truly democratic country does not ‘own’ its own elections?