Fraud Allegations Fly as Haitian Presidential Election Heads to Runoff
As Haiti’s two leading presidential candidates head to a runoff, Queens College’s Francois Pierre-Louis and CEPR’s Jake Johnston discuss the lack of violence and implications of the international community’s backing of the election results
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
A banana plantation owner and the former head of Haiti’s government construction agency may face off against each other in Haiti’s presidential runoff next month. Jovenel Moise, who represents the sitting president’s party Tet Kale received about 32 percent of the vote, while Jude Celestin of the Alternative League for Progress and Emancipation of Haiti received about 25 percent of the vote. You may remember Celestin because he ran in the last presidential election back in 2010. The flawed presidential election made Celestin, Martelly, and other candidates call the round illegitimate early in the day. But new details have shown that U.S. officials worked closely with the Haitian private sector to force Haitian authorities to change the results to keep Celestin out of the next round and move Martelly into the following round.
From emails in Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state we received behind-the-scenes action between the private sector and the U.S. Embassy to push Celestin out. We can pull up one email from U.S. ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten, who wrote to Clinton chief of staff at the State Department Cheryl Mills and other State Department staff, he wrote: Boulos and private sector have told RP, Rene Preval, that Celestin should withdraw. They would support RP staying till the 7th of February. This is big.
This revelation is certainly big, and accusations of fraud in this round of elections is bringing about new questions. Now joining us to help answer some of these questions is Jake Johnston. He is a research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. Also joining us via phone from Haiti is Francois Pierre-Louis. Francois is an associate professor of political science at Queens College in New York. Thank you both for joining us.
So we had to do that very long introduction just to get people up to speed, because these presidential election results, they’re simply preliminary. But we have eight presidential candidates in recent days, including Celestin, coming out saying that they’re illegitimate and there’s been massive fraud during the October 25 election. Only really Martelly’s party is standing by those results, surprise surprise, they actually ended up being at the top of the heap, according to these results.
So Jake, I want to turn to you first and just, you were there on election day. Let’s talk about the level of fraud and irregularities, and do you see these elections as being legitimate?
JAKE JOHNSTON: Yeah, well I mean, I think one of the most important numbers to look at right off the top is the participation rate. This is a presidential election, and only saw 26 percent of registered voters actually vote. It’s a shockingly low number and it’s sort of an indication of what the Haitian people really think about this political system and the elections that are in front of them. I think that’s, you know, an important context. On election day itself, I mean, I think after the August 1 round legislative elections, which were quite violent. Saw a number of polling centers, around 200 across the country, ransacked and shut down. Observers in the international community were waiting for that, they were waiting for the violence. And in turn they may have overlooked sort of the fraud that was happening behind the scenes.
And for many, the lack of violence led everyone to say that well, these were great elections, and sort of sweep the rest of it under the rug. But there have been credible allegations from local human rights groups and from opposition candidates, certainly, that these results are tainted by those levels of fraud.
DESVARIEUX: And the international community has sort of supported these elections. I’ll turn just to the Organization of American States, OAS. They proclaimed the day after the vote that any problems, quote, did not affect the overall course of the election. Francois, you’re in Haiti right now. Do you agree that these issues of irregularities and fraud do not delegitimatize the vote?
FRANCOIS PIERRE-LOUIS: Okay. Now, first, [that could] not make a difference. If there is fraud that means somebody is taking advantage of something that shouldn’t, that person shouldn’t be taking advantage of. And we can see, you know, I’ve been here since yesterday, and the results came out last night. [Inaud.] the city was shut down because everyone was protesting because of the results, because of, that it was unfair. In Port-au-Prince you had the, a lot of demonstrations also. I think one of the members of Moise Jean Charles’ party was killed by the police. And even this morning no one went to work in [inaud.]. There’s no transportation anywhere. And you have small groups assembled around, and you have the UN that is out there with all their tanks and machine guns, and scaring tactics.
So if this fraud did not affect the election, why would they put such an arsenal out there on the streets to prevent the people from protesting?
DESVARIEUX: Francois, I was going to say about the international community, though, what do you make of them trying to say that it was a legitimate election?
PIERRE-LOUIS: Well you know, the international community, this is the second time they’ve held elections in Haiti. In 2010 the same thing happened. And they have to justify spending $35 million on a process that was flawed from the beginning. And secondly I think the UN policy is that once you have elections it doesn’t matter how bad it is, they will accept it as such so that they can say there is democracy in the country.
Unfortunately in this election, the presidential election could have been a [well] one. It could have been one of the best elections in the country had the UN and international community penalized the government for such massive fraud. If the people of Haiti had heard that the international community had sanctioned Martelly and his government for such massive fraud people would have been happy no matter what the result would come out. But that now, in a way they are accepting the result and putting Jovenel Moise on top, has made a lot of people angry and frustrated, and they’re feeling cheated.
DESVARIEUX: Jake, do we have a clear sense that the international supporting Jovenel Moise, Martelly’s candidate, basically his party’s candidate, and why would they be supporting them if they are?
JOHNSTON: Well I mean, I think what they’re supporting is an electoral process. Now, I think contrary to what happened in 2010 where you had the international community immediately question the results that were announced, they’ve stayed largely quite this time. Now I think they’ve got, there was good reason to criticize the role of the international community in 2010 for intervening and overturning the results of that election, and it’s sort of interesting that the tables have largely been turned and the silence this time is sort of taken as tacit approval of whatever’s happened in the election, which obviously has benefited the government.
DESVARIEUX: And same question to you, Francois. Do you see this same sort of silence as permission, that they’re allowing Martelly’s party to sort of just keep the reins of power?
PIERRE-LOUIS: Definitely. I think somewhere, outside of Haiti, there has been a deal made that there will continue Martelly in power, without [inaud.] person who has no knowledge or experience in public administration, who has never spoken publicly as a politician. Who doesn’t know anything yet about Haitian politics. And this is the kind of person that they want to put in office, the same way that they decided to impose Martelly.
To me, unfortunately as a Haitian, and someone who is going to be involved in Haiti for a long time, the crisis that started with Martelly is not going to end. It’s taken 80 percent of the population out of the political process. And if they ever put, impose Jovenel, and Jovenel becomes president, we can expect more of the continuing crisis that existed under Martelly, and the country instead of more progressing economically will be worse off.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk about the economics a bit more, Francois. What sort of interests are backing Martelly’s party, and Jovenel Moise?
PIERRE-LOUIS: Well, the mining interests. They have discovered gold in the northeast of Haiti, and [inaud.] just made a transaction with another mining company to buy some interest in Haiti. I think the mining interest is very much interested in Haiti. And I think also you have some international community who also invest, especially in the tourism sector. And they believe that to get some concessions from Jovenel and Martelly would be easier to have it from those guys instead of someone else who might be beholden to the population. So I think these are the issues.
DESVARIEUX: I hear you. Okay. Jake, just really quickly, what do you foresee happening now? Is it guaranteed that we’re going to have a runoff next month?
JOHNSTON: Yeah, I think that’s what a lot of people are watching now. I mean, the results are being questioned. Certainly people want to see a more thorough review of the irregularities and trying to, not count, be counting fraudulent ballots. What we’re hearing from PHDK, from the government’s party, is that they might be trying to argue that they’ll actually be winning in the first round due to sort of a, you know, an interpretation of the electoral law. And I think that’s what everyone’s sort of watching now, is see if they try to push through a first-round win.
I think if you do imagine a second-round scenario you have–you know, there are 54 candidates. But if you look at sort of the top candidates outside of Jovenel Moise, the government’s party, most of the other people who got any sort of, amount of support whatsoever, were in the opposition. And so a potential second round looks very difficult for the government to actually win in.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Jake Johnston joining us from Washington, DC, and Francois Pierre-Louis joining us from Haiti, thank you both for being with us.
JOHNSTON: Thank you.
PIERRE-LOUIS: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.