[News] Haiti’s Stealth Elections: What’s At Stake?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 4 16:30:20 EST 2006

Haiti’s Stealth Elections: What’s 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.


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.


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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