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Haitian Transition Into Democracy Essay, Research Paper

International observers have monitored national elections in Haiti since the ouster of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. In the violence plagued elections that took place in 1987, foreign election observers put themselves at significant risk. Representatives from multilateral, nongovernmental, civilian, and military organizations were also present throughout the months of campaigning, during, and after Election Day in the 1990, 1991, 1995, and 1997 elections. Although election observers accounted for some successes, a series of international and domestic obstacles prevented them from promoting fully transparent and credible elections in Haiti (Doyle 1997). An efficient and credible electoral system is the foundation of the democratization process.

Among all the countries in Latin America, Haiti holds the record for having had the most governments, the worst peacetime human rights record, and the most and longest U.S. military interventions. It is also a strong contender for the record of holding the highest number of tampered elections. Presidents St nio Vincent (1930 36), Paul Magloire (1950 56), and Francois Duvalier (1957 1971) all won Haiti’s highest office in rigged elections. In fact, it appears that Haiti’s only free election came in 1870, more than a century ago (Trouillot 1995). Needless to say, democratization efforts in this country have been halted, largely in part by the lack of frequent and fair elections.

As in Nicaragua and El Salvador, a core group of foreign observers was present in most elections in Haiti during the late 1980s and 1990s, with the OAS and especially the UN playing the dominant roles in the 1990s (Herman 1984). The NDI and the Carter Center worked together in 1990, but only the latter observed elections again in 1995 (Pastor 1995). International observers’ main function was to deter violence, though the real key in this regard was the presence of security monitors in 1990 and foreign armed forces in 1995 and 1997. The U.S. government financially supported foreign observers and the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), spending almost $20 million annually to promote democracy in Haiti. In 1996, for example, $19.2 million was budgeted for building democracy (IRI 1996).

Foreign involvement in Haiti has focused primarily on ensuring free elections to legitimate a nominally democratic government. The United Nations, United States, and other foreign actors have invested, according to press reports, approximately $3 billion for the humanitarian intervention undertaken in Haiti since 1994 (IRI 1997). Approximately 60 percent of this amount went for military expenditures, even though no armed resistance was ever mounted, and another $50 million was spent directly on observing, advising, and mediating in elections in 1987, 1990 1991, 1995, and 1997. The U.S. government has been the largest donor and, hence, the most influential actor in structuring the electoral missions. It financed the OAS missions in their entirety and provided a significant share of financing for the Carter Center, NDI, and IRI missions.

One area in which international election observers in Haiti have had little success is mediation. Although Haitian elections have posed as many technical, procedural, and political challenges as any elections in Latin America, mediation of electoral disputes

have been far less effective in Haiti than anywhere else. For instance, although there has been no open armed conflict, hidden remnants of the illegal Tontons Macoutes still intimidate the rural population (Wilentz 1989).

Misuse of state resources, though less prevalent than in other countries, is grounds for substantial concern. Each successive CEP has written its own set of election laws, which tend to be arbitrary and often beyond the limits set by the constitution. Coordinated vote fraud is probably not pervasive, but it still takes place in some regions. Ordinarily, complaints about election irregularities like these would be addressed through an electoral commission or a legislature. Because Haiti has neither a functioning legislature nor a permanent electoral commission, it has a greater need for outside mediation. But Haiti’s history of foreign intervention and its domestic sensitivities predispose political actors to resist anything they perceive as outside interference, including mediation efforts (Doyle 1997).

No one has been able to exert soft power to mediate Haiti’s numerous campaign and post-election disputes, something that would complement the hard power of the UN and OAS electoral observation teams. Mediators have found that Haiti is unique in that methods used in other countries failed in Haiti. Observers’ ability to internationally publicize any irregularities witnessed is of little use in Haiti. With few exceptions, Haitian political parties and election authorities care little about outsiders’ accusations of improper conduct (Fisler 1995).

Even former president Jimmy Carter, a very successful mediator in transfers of power in other countries, was hampered in his mediation efforts in Haiti. Carter met with Aristide prior to the December 1990 elections and encouraged him to accept the results, whatever they might be, as long as the election was credible. However, rumor holds that Aristide interpreted Carter to mean that he should accept the election of Marc Bazin, whom many Haitians perceived to be the United States’ favored candidate (Washington Office 1991). In the last press conference of his campaign, held on December 14, 1990, Aristide reiterated in four different languages (English, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish) that he would not accept any result that did not show him as the winner. Confident of victory, Aristide was convinced that he could be defeated only through fraud. He clearly misunderstood Carter’s comments and efforts by other foreign observers to prepare all of the candidates to accept any credible result.

The post 1997 electoral events might have been another moment for foreign mediation, at least by non U.S. personnel. Too many of Haiti’s political leaders felt hostility toward the United States because of its “occupation” for U.S. mediators to have played a constructive role. The Organization of American States (OAS) tried, but OAS Mission Chief Colin Granderson was not successful in producing an agreement between Pierre-Charles and the CEP that would have brought the OPL back into the electoral process (Haiti Info 1997).

A second observer function is to advise parties, electoral commissions, and NGOs in the areas of administration, logistics, and vote tabulation. United Nations technical assistance began in 1990 with a delegation from the UN’s Nicaraguan electoral observation team and the president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). The preliminary UN evaluation of Haiti’s 1990 election outlook confidentially reported that it was very doubtful that any elections could be held, and lower-ranking UNDP officials opposed the transformation of the agency’s Haiti mission from economic development to democratic development (Trouillot 1995). However, UN Resident Representative Reinhart Helmke embraced the seemingly impossible project. By May 1990, initial preparations for a major UN role were already well under way, with the authorization of UNDP administrator William Draper and with the coordinated support of U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams (U.S. State Dept. 1987). The UN General Assembly approved the mission in September, despite some reservations from Colombia and China about mounting a multilateral intervention in a sovereign member state without express Security Council authorization.

The Helmke Plan included the first UN mission to Haiti in 1990, which focused on technical assistance and the verification of results. Both UN personnel and contractors were closely involved with the fourth Provisional Electoral Council. Another U.S. financed NGO, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), provided procurement services and additional training of poll watchers. In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Port-au-Prince commissioned the UN to audit CEP-IV’s disbursement of $4 million (Washington Office 1991).

One very serious allegation regarding foreign observers’ performance of their advisory role concerns the date set for the 1990 elections. President Eartha Pascal Trouillot signed an election law that set the date for September 30, 1990. CEP-IV subsequently postponed the elections until December. When Jean-Paul Poirier, one of two UN consultants who had also worked with CEP-I for the 1987 elections, stated that there was no need to delay the elections, especially given that the voter registration planning was already in place, both consultants were immediately fired. Politicians from traditional parties, who had preferred the earlier date, alleged that the elections were delayed so that Aristide could enter the race (Doyle 1997). The traditional parties’ belief that foreign observers connived to achieve this result estranged them from Aristide in subsequent years.

The UN continued to fulfill its technical assistance function until 1997, supported by contributions from USAID. However, because the CEP was clearly not able to implement the UN’s recommendations for administrative reform, the UN mission found itself caught between its role as adviser and its role as critic. Instead of trying to merge the two roles, the UN decided in 1997 to terminate its relationship with the CEP. With this key external actor no longer present, the United States was no longer willing to impose monitored elections, despite the Clinton administration’s desire to claim a foreign policy success in Haiti (IRI 1997).

International observers in Haiti were also involved in a policing or security role. Foreign security and police advisers normally supervise or work cooperatively with domestic army and police officers of equivalent rank to develop and implement a security plan for the campaign period and for election day (Fisler 1995). The mere presence of these monitors, easily identified by the logos on their clothing, enhances the public’s sense of security. The most effective of these groups during and immediately following Haiti’s first democratic election, in December 1990, were the UN security monitors and foreign political mediators. Former president Jimmy Carter took the lead in negotiating security measures with the Haitian army in 1990, and he joined U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle in pressuring the Haitian military to ensure the security of the electoral process. Other foreign observers also pressed the Haitians to make good on their promise to support free elections.

Between the presidential and first-round legislative elections in December 1990 and Aristide’s inauguration on February 7, 1991, OAS and UN security forces monitored four additional legislative and local elections (Pastor 1995). They also contended with an attempted coup, several assassination attempts against the president-elect, armed movements, and an overall aggressive environment.

The 1995 elections were secured by the deployment in Haiti of 6,000 foreign troops, to supplement the 5,000 member transitional police force (IRI 1995). In 1997, the only security came from the new national Haitian police force, supplemented by about 1,000 foreign security personnel. The consequences of this reduced security presence were severe, particularly in remote areas; at least a dozen people were murdered over the course of the 1997 election campaign (IRI 1997).

The Haitian case raises significant questions regarding the democratizing effect of transitional elections, and the international observation that often accompanies them. When foreign election observers either accept a fraudulent result or favor a particular candidate, it makes no difference whether the questionable election results are a deliberate falsification or the product of an inefficient process. It is equally troubling when the observers’ own political agenda leads them to favor a particular candidate (Herman 1984). A more subtle kind of bias, which also reflects an underlying political agenda, occurs when election observers declare an outcome valid despite obvious deficiencies. The temptation to do so is sometimes strong because international electoral observation is a costly undertaking and foreign observers know that those fronting the bill want the process to succeed.

Foreign election observers must choose between one of two sets of criteria (Karl 1986). They can either apply universal standards for free and fair elections, or they can choose a standard tailored to the level of electoral development which predominates in a particular country. In Haiti, as in some past elections in Nicaragua and El Salvador, foreign observers have often evaluated electoral processes without explicitly stating the criteria they are employing, relying instead on a pragmatic approach that can bend to the exigencies of the moment (Herman 1984).

Some observers argue that a country’s electoral capacity must inform their evaluation of that country’s electoral process. They are willing to excuse shortcomings in the belief that holding unfair elections is preferable to holding none at all (Doyle 1997). Other observers insist that a country should not hold elections until the process can be sufficiently free that the opposition can openly contest power on equal terms with political incumbents. Because election observers differ in their perspectives, they also differ in the standards they apply. The former viewpoint predominated in Haiti in 1990, but the latter came to the fore among international observers in Haiti in 1995 and 1997.

In 1990, only one hour after the polls closed, the UN/OAS teams’ quick count, based on a sample of a mere one hundred tally sheets from precincts, projected a two-thirds majority for Aristide (Washington Office 1991). Aristide’s landslide victory totally eclipsed the simultaneous elections for both houses of Parliament and several local posts, to the point that no local capacity for vote counting developed and some 300,000 ballots were lost after the tallies were concluded. Because the UN was responsible for advising the CEP and the Haitian armed forces, it made no public comment on this matter prior to Aristide’s inauguration in February 1991. This was a crucial mistake because no plans were made to prevent the error from being repeated in 1995, when most of Haiti’s political society abandoned the electoral process after similar numbers of ballots were again lost (Pastor 1995).

Election observers are most effective at verifying presidential votes, in which they need only determine who received a majority or which two candidates will compete in a runoff. Congressional elections are more complex and require more verification: at least one parallel count or quick count per party in a national party-list system, and one per constituency in plurality systems (Pastor 1995). Because Haiti has both single-member districts in the Chamber of Deputies and staggered, single-member Senate elections, it is very difficult for observers to verify legislative election results.

It is not surprising, therefore, that observers of the 1990 91, 1995, and 1997 elections could not quell suspicions of election fraud or incompetence in the management of the electoral process. Domestic and foreign actors chose to overlook questionable practices in 1990 91, but they did allege incompetence and fraud in 1995 and 1997. Even so, no serious actions were taken to improve electoral administration, which suggests that most citizens did not care enough to support the concerns of politicians worried about electoral administration. As a result, international observers in Haiti have produced relatively little in the areas of political learning and improved electoral administration. The fact that foreign observers overlooked some irregularities in 1990 1 was actually a disservice to Haiti’s weak electoral process. Placing immediate trust in the UN/OAS quick count opened the door to other breaches of Haiti’s election law, which requires a full ballot count (IRI 1995).

Since there were no reliable precinct tally sheets available following the 1990 legislative elections, Aristide’s followers viewed the legislature as illegitimate, and they refused to submit some Cabinet appointees for confirmation or to consent to a vote of confidence. In August 1991, Aristide partisans threatened to lynch legislators who tried to dissolve the prime minister’s cabinet, refusing to recognize these elected legislators as part of Haiti’s democratic system (Trouillot 1995). One can infer that the questionable legitimacy of the two houses of Parliament contributed to Aristide’s extra-constitutional approach to government.

Although foreign observers have overseen four major sets of elections in Haiti, Haitian elections are still not minimally free and fair. The fact that the 1990 elections were held without major outbursts of violence was in itself a victory, predisposing observers to overlook gross irregularities in the legislative portion of the electoral process. For example, none of the dozens of reports written by foreign observers about the 1990 91 elections noted that the voter registration lists were not prepared on time or that electoral districts ranged in size from 14,000 to over 120,000 people (Trouillot 1995).

In both 1990 and 1995, the United Nations’ evaluation was colored by the fact that it was acting as both technical adviser to and evaluator of the Provisional Electoral Council. And in 1995 and 1997, delegations from the U.S. embassy were inclined to defend the elections in light of the United States’ huge financial and political investment in the undertaking (IRI 1997).

The OAS observer mission in 1990 was filled with administrative problems and inter-ethnic and racial tensions. The OAS budget, funded by the United States, was only a quarter of that of the United Nations, too small to develop an effective administrative structure or to support a permanent French-speaking staff. The OAS delegation’s leadership, drawn from Elections Quebec, was somewhat hostile toward the U.S. observers representing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and this undermined their effectiveness as well (Fisler 1994).

Haiti’s pivotal elections support the proposition that international actors generally, and election observers in particular, can induce and help sustain democratization by maintaining a comprehensive presence during an election campaign and through periodic mediation of post-election disputes. Foreign involvement has proved vitally important for Haiti’s nascent democracy because it has provided its budding civil and political societies with some degree of security and confidence (Doyle 1997).

Yet the view among Latin Americanists that “demonstration elections” (Herman 1984) and “electoralism” (Karl 1986) promoted from outside can do harm as well as good also holds true to some extent in Haiti. The essentially electoralist policies pursued by the United Nations and the United States in Haiti in 1990 did not provide for any openness about electoral shortcomings. Nor did they provide for human rights monitoring during election campaigns. The report by Haiti’s Commission for Truth and Justice was prepared hastily and superficially by Latin American standards; completed after only a few weeks of interviewing in the summer of 1995, it still has not been publicly released. There has been no public listing or purge of human rights violators in the military, and former Tontons Macoutes and demobilized military personnel often threaten the exercise of civil and political rights with impunity (Wilentz 1989). Activists from the Duvalier dictatorship were barred from participating in politics from 1987 to 1997 based on constitutional Article 291 rather than the recommendations of the Truth Commission report. This action excluded these individuals from any national reconciliation process and encouraged them to engage in disloyal politics, including the 1991 coup against Aristide .

International involvement produced only one respectable voter turnout, in 1990. In successive elections, turnout ranged between 5 and 25 percent of registered voters, so low that it undercut popular perceptions of these elections’ legitimacy (IRI 1997). Similarly, international efforts on other fronts also produced few tangible results. Unsuccessful U.S. efforts to mediate an end to the 1997 election boycott produced intransigence in Parliament. Despite repeated visits by U.S. officials, like former national security adviser Anthony Lake, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and even U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Haiti has not been able to confirm a replacement for Prime Minister Rosny Smarth, who resigned in June 1997 over the CEP’s failure to correct election irregularities (Haiti Info 1997). The only significant mediation effort involving political parties occurred in the spring of 1998 under the auspices of the IRI. However, some of the twenty Haitian parties participating in the IRI sponsored pact were linked to terrorism and/or the Duvalier dictatorship. It will require much more effective mediation to bring the country’s disparate political parties back into electoral competition for the general elections in the year 2000.

Despite the United States’ substantial investment in the assistance and oversight of Haiti’s four sets of post-Duvalier elections (about $1 per voter for electoral administration, and between $2 and $4 per voter for international observation), electoral administration remains a serious problem. This country case suggests that credible elections in traditional societies that lack functioning institutions, especially political parties and NGOs, must sometimes be limited to the simplest contests of all, the direct election of a president and proportional representation elections for the legislature. Legislative and local races often cannot be independently verified; in the absence of either a rationalized bureaucratic state or an autonomous political or civil society, the task is too complex. Haiti’s electoral councils have not performed well, even considering the difficult circumstances under which they operate. There are too many similarities between them and other inefficient, corruption-ridden state agencies to make the CEPs a credible enforcer of the integrity of competitive elections (Karl 1986).

Nor have the country’s political elites and foreign election observers convened to decide what can be done to raise Haiti’s electoral conduct closer to universal standards for minimally fair elections. Ironically, the absence of clear evidence of centrally coordinated fraud has left foreign observers and many of Haiti’s political parties in a quandary about how to respond to the CEP’s incompetence.

Although one hesitates to conclude that a country is not ready for democracy, it does appear that Haiti requires a clearer consensus among elites and a longer period of economic modernization before it can stage fully free and fair elections (Doyle 1997). For this reason, international actors should work to establish a consensus within Haitian society in favor of elections before they agree to monitor future votes. When the United States invaded Haiti in 1994 and reinstated democracy, not all the country’s political elites were yet ready to accept the most basic electoral ground rules (Fisler 1995).

Throughout the 1990s, Haiti’s elections have been conducted with an eye to their impact in the United States. Domestic political actors have always been careful to satisfy the U.S. interests, inside and outside of government, that backed their country’s involvement in Haiti. Nevertheless, these same U.S. interests have been discouraged by the fact that the presence of international monitors in Haiti has not led to the formation of a competent, independent electoral administration or a functioning party system. Their perception that foreign monitoring appeared to work in Haiti in 1990 1991 encouraged external actors to ignore problems that arose again in subsequent elections. These problems were later condemned in the 1995 and 1997 elections (Doyle 1997).

In 1990, most of the world was overjoyed that Haiti was able to hold any election at all. The situation changed dramatically in 1995 (IRI 1997). In an attempt to increase their political capital, Republican members of the U.S. Congress attacked the Clinton administration’s post-invasion project in Haiti, especially problems associated with the 1995 and 1997 elections. The effort did not give the Republicans the political advantage they desired, but it did strengthen the hand of those among Aristide’s domestic opponents who wanted to discredit these elections. Ironically, by exaggerating the CEP’s very real problems and political parties’ weaknesses, foreign observers undermined Haiti’s weak democratic institutions and reinforced the self-fulfilling tendency of many Haitians to assume that it is futile to try to construct a functioning democracy in the country.

The principal dilemma in contemporary Haiti is that most of civil society remains clearly behind Aristide, but most of political society (especially his erstwhile political allies) scorns him (IRI 1997). Although Aristide’s opponents probably would draw only limited support in any open election, at this point the international community does not seem much interested in assuring that Haiti’s elections are credible, especially if their main result is to produce either a one party system dominated by Aristide or a

two-party system consisting of two Lavalas factions, as has existed since the 1995 elections (IRI 1996). Ironically, the United States’ insistence that Aristide step down after completing his term in February 1996, strengthened Aristide’s popular appeal. If he had remained in office for an additional three years, his reputation might well have suffered as a result of the usual disadvantages of incumbency, especially in light of the country’s turbulent government.

In 1990, foreign election observers in Haiti faced a dilemma that is common in the Americas. Haiti’s constitution is both federal and semi-presidential. This situation made the 1990 elections ambitious not only in terms of security and credibility, but also in terms of the sheer number of offices contested (Pastor 1995). Yet foreign observers focused on the presidential race, in part because Aristide was one of the candidates and in part because this was the only contest in which the vote could be verified. Haiti’s frail NGOs and political parties, the weakest in the Americas, have not been able to verify any of the election results produced by the country’s ineffectual Provisional Electoral Councils. Because neither NGOs nor parties were able to conduct parallel counts, quick-count sampling was the only tool available to foreign observers. Yet samples are only useful when election results are not close, as in the direct vote in the 1990 presidential election. They are impractical for Haiti’s plurality elections in Chamber of Deputies and Senate districts because too many statistically representative samples would have to be taken (Trouillot 1995). By overestimating the value that the 1990 presidential election held for Haitians, international actors inadvertently reinforced centralization of power in the country, thereby undercutting the decentralizing goals of the 1987 constitution.

One of the strengths of foreign election observers is that they can speak out to an international audience when they find shortcomings that can be corrected, thus helping a country that is not yet ready to hold free elections. Unfortunately, they can also overlook or exaggerate anomalies, in effect camouflaging the country’s true state of electoral readiness. This latter situation is what has occurred in Haiti. By applying a lower standard for democratic elections, foreign observers in 1990 1991 taught Haiti’s political society in which electoral transparency and enforcement of election rules can be ignored. Then, by exacerbating the problems that arose during 1995 and 1997, they encouraged Haitian political society to blame most of the country’s electoral shortcomings as deliberate fraud. This lack of honesty on the part of international observers has created an impression of decentralized fraud committed by competing legislative candidates, along with centralized fraud by an electoral commission that has been controlled by Aristide forces since 1995. Like El Salvador and Nicaragua, Haiti requires a permanent electoral commission capable of institutionalizing its relations with foreign observers, who can then help meet the many administrative needs that exist and cooperate with political parties to develop much stronger independent vote verification capabilities (Herman 1984).

In the absence of an institutionalized party system, it is unclear what claims Haiti’s parties and elected leaders have on each other, or whether it is possible to develop the consensus necessary to implement various constitutional mandates. Although ex- president Aristide continued to govern from behind the scenes with his ally Pr val as president, he lacks support from parties other than his own. Few among the political elite are willing to take orders from him because he still is perceived as unwilling to engage in consensual decision making. The 1995 and 1997 elections only produced a decimated party system and a temporary electoral commission that lacks a national census from which to rest

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