[News] Haitis Stealth Elections: Whats At Stake?
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 4 16:30:20 EST 2006
Haitis Stealth Elections: Whats At Stake?
by Brian Concannon Jr.
Tomorrow Haitians will vote in historic elections
that are as ignored as they are important.
Although they are receiving little attention in
the foreign, and even Haitian press, the
elections will establish, for the first time in
nineteen years, the radically democratic and
decentralized foundation of Haiti's 1987 Constitution.
The International attention available for
elections in poor countries is focused on
Venezuela's Presidential race the same day.
Haiti's President, René Préval, is in Havana
today, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the
Cuban Revolution. Even the members of the
Haitianpolitics listserve have other things on
their mind: today's postings include analyses of
politics in Venezuela, Cuba, Lebanon and France,
but no mention of tomorrow's voting in Haiti.
Haiti's elections are for municipal and local
posts, which attract less attention in any
country. They are also a year late- they were
originally scheduled for November 2005 by the
dictatorial Interim Government of Haiti (IGH),
but postponed several times, even as Haiti
elected a President and Parliament last spring.
More important, many popular candidates are not
running. Although the IGH is gone- Prime Minister
Gérard Latortue fled to the U.S. to avoid
prosecution for fraud and murder- the Provisional
Electoral Council it appointed is still running
the voting. The Council declined to re-open
candidate registration, which excluded candidates
who feared to register under the IGH, but were
willing to participate under the democratic
Préval government. The exclusion particularly
impacted Haiti's largest political party, Fanmi
Lavalas, which boycotted the 2005 registration
because the IGH was routinely arresting and/or
killing its leaders and grassroots activists.
Although some local candidates registered under
the party's banner anyway, they did so in less
than half the races, and those candidates were
not vetted or approved by the national organization.
On the ground in Haiti, people do care about the
elections, because they know what is at stake.
Over 29,000 candidates are running for 1,420
positions. Grassroots activists are organizing an
aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign, spreading
the word through informal networks and
progressive radio stations. They are predicting a
decent turnout, albeit below the levels seen for Presidential elections.
THE CONSTITUTION'S SOUL
What is at stake Sunday is the "soul" of Haiti's
government established by the 1987 Constitution:
a pyramid structure based on 4-6 person local
assemblies, called "ASECS" (Assemblés des
Sections Communales). The ASEC system is designed
to radically decentralize political power and
ensure grassroots participation at the highest
levels of government. It is so radical that the
powers-that-be, including a broad spectrum of
Haitian governments and members of the
International Community- the United Nations, the
Organization of American States and the United
States, all of which have played an active role
in the details of Haiti's elections- have ignored
this foundation of Haiti's constitutional system
for nineteen years. Haiti has had seven election
cycles since 1987, electing five Presidents and
several legislatures. ASECS have been on the
ballot less than half the time, and the system
has not been fully implemented once.
ASEC candidates run as a slate (from a political
party or group of independents) and are chosen by
voters in each communal section. Haiti is divided
into ten Departments, each Department is divided
into municipalities, or communes, and each
municipality is split into communal sections. A
dense urban communal section could have more than
100,000 voters, a remote rural section as few as
a few hundred. ASEC members wield little direct
power themselves, but they are the soul of the
constitutional system because they oversee and
advise other government officials, from local
administrators to the National Palace, and play a
key role in selecting judges and electoral council members.
Within the communal section, the ASECs advise and
supervise the local Sectional Council, which
administers the section. Each ASEC sends one
representative to the Municipal Assembly, which
plays a similar watchdog/advisor role at the
municipal level. The mayor is supposed to report
to it on the use of municipal resources, and
cannot sell state lands without the Assembly's
approval. The Municipal Assembly also makes the
initial list from which local justices of the peace are chosen.
Each Municipal Assembly sends a representative to
the Departmental Assembly, where the power starts
to accumulate. The Departmental Assembly chooses
the members of the Departmental Council, which
administers the Department. The Departmental
Assembly plays a similar watchdog/advisor role at
the Departmental level, and the Departmental
Council reports to it. The Departmental Assembly
also draws up a list of nominees for trial and
appellate judgeships in the Department. Each
Departmental Assembly nominates three people to
serve on the national Permanent Electoral Council
(CEP), ceating a list of 30 nominees. The Supreme
Court, the executive and the legislature each
pick three names from that list for the CEP.
Each Departmental Assembly sends a representative
to the Interdepartmental Assembly. The
Interdepartmental Assembly helps the executive
branch, and is involved in policy planning. The
Interdepartmental Assembly is entitled to attend
and vote at Ministerial Council meetings that
deal with issues within its domain.
This system ensures that non-professional
politicians, elected by their neighbors, have a
say at every level of Haitian government. The
system is insulated from centralized money and
other forces because it is impossible to predict
which ASEC candidates are likely to make it to
the Departmental Assemblies, where power starts to accumulate.
For example, in the 3rd Section of
Croix-des-Bouquets, outside Haiti's capitol,
there are seven ASEC slates of six candidates
each. If a candidate's slate prevails, he has a
one-in-six chance of being chosen for the
Croix-des-Bouquets Municipal Assembly. That
Assembly has ten members, one of which is chosen
for the Departmental Assembly for the West
Department. So any one ASEC candidate has a
1-in-420 chance of reaching the Departmental
Assembly, and a 1-in-4,200 chance of reaching the Interdepartmental Assembly.
A HISTORIC STEP FORWARD
Implementing the ASEC system will bring some
much-needed stability to future elections, by
establishing a Permanent Electoral Council. The
1987 Constitution created a formula for choosing
a Provisional Council that would run a single
election that would set the ASEC system in motion
to choose a Permanent Council. Because the ASEC
system was never implemented, every one of
Haiti's elections over the last nineteen years
has been run by a Provisional Council. All but
the first of those Councils was chosen through a
formula not recognized by the Constitution. And
all but the first of the elections they ran was
contested by the losing parties, who challenged
(with good reason) the Provisional Council's legitimacy.
Nineteen years is a long time to lay the
Constitution's foundation stone, but it is better
late than never. Sunday's voting is a strong
first step, but it must be followed up with
diligent implementation of the entire ASEC
system. By doing so, President Préval could help
end the incessant series of electoral crises in
Haiti, which keep spiraling into political
instability and twice have led to the overthrow
of the Constitutional government. In the long
run, Sunday's ignored elections could be the most
important accomplishment of President Préval's administration.
Brian Concannon Jr. directs the Institute for
Justice & Democracy in Haiti, <http://www.ijdh.org/>www.HaitiJustice.org.
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