Haiti’s Upcoming Elections
On November 28, Haiti will have the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections. These polls will determine who will be the country’s next president before the current government’s tenure expires in early February 2011. It will also allow for the replacement of a third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives whose term expired last May. Selected future leaders have the daunting task of helping their country emerge from devastation and profound human suffering from the January earthquake, the November hurricane and the current cholera epidemic.
Sophie Lagueny, IFES chief of party in Haiti, provides an update of the situation on the ground in the run-up to the election.
IFES: How are the preparations going?
SL: Preparations are going well. The electoral kits arrived a few weeks ago and have already been transported to the provinces. The ballot papers have been printed and are being packed so that they can be shipped to the provinces. Poll worker training has also begun to take place.
IFES: How has the earthquake affected the preparations for these elections?
SL: It’s understandable that people assume the earthquake has made the implementation of the elections more difficult, but in truth, it did not affect the process too much. The electoral commission was already established before the catastrophe and the electoral law under which the 2009 legislative elections were held remains the same. The building that housed Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Commission (CEP) was damaged and the annex was completely destroyed. Twelve people died in the annex, which is a tragedy. The equipment and materials that had already been procured and were stored in the annex were also lost and had to be replaced. Some of the offices in the provinces were also affected. There were also some polling centers/stations that were destroyed or damaged.
The psychological effect of all of this, especially of the lives lost, was obviously intense; however, preparations were actually able to go on pretty much as they would have had the earthquake not taken place. The CEP has been relocated since the earthquake, and new locations were found for destroyed or damaged buildings that would have been polling centers. The truth is implementing elections in Haiti has always been challenging.
IFES: What makes the implementation of elections in Haiti challenging?
SL: The decision-making process is very slow. The tendency is to leave everything for the last minute.
IFES: What is happening with the internally displaced persons?
SL: It is important to make a distinction between the people who were actually displaced from one town to another, and those who now live in camps but still in the town they lived in before the earthquake.
The CEP launched a nationwide campaign so that people who were displaced could go to Verification Operations Centers (COVs) that were established by the CEP to allow voters to either confirm or change their polling center. This is also true for people who live in the camps. Several COVs were established in some of the largest camps and as result of this, polling centers will be set up close to several camps where enough voters expressed their wish to vote there. The voters who did not change their voting place during the verification operations will have to go to the polling station where they used to vote.
IFES: So, are all problems with the polling stations solved?
SL: No. The real issue dates back to 2005 and 2006. A lot of people didn’t vote in 2009, so they don’t know that their names might not be in the polling stations they voted in during the 2005 and 2006 elections. In between the 2005-2006 elections and the 2009 elections, a new election law was passed. This law provides for a minimum of two polling stations per communal section which was not the case before. Before, many communal sections had only one polling center. So, a certain number of voters have been moved to new polling stations. The criteria for moving a voter from one center to the other was a person’s residential address. The point was to put the voter in a center closest to her/his residence. The problem is that a lot of people still do not know they may have been moved to a different station. The turn- out in the 2009 election was only 10-11%. This means a large majority of the population that did not vote in that election is not aware that their polling station may have changed.
IFES: Has the CEP done any information campaigns for people to find out where their polling station actually is?
SL: In 2009, a call center was created where people could call to find out where their polling station was located. They could also do this via SMS. Unfortunately, all this was put in place and advertised only three days before the election. This time around, the public information campaign announcing the phone numbers to call or SMS will begin six days before the election, on November 22nd.
IFES: Who are the candidates?
SL: There are 19 candidates for the presidency, 98 for 11 Senate seats and 815 for 99 seats in the House of Representatives.
IFES: How have the campaigns been going?
SL: Wyclef Jean’s registration as a candidate created a lot of excitement. The truth is before that, people did not show much interest in the whole process. It died down a bit once the final list of candidates was issued but much of the interest remained. There are posters and billboards everywhere, as well as rallies being organized all over the country. From what I’ve been hearing, it’s all going reasonably well and without violence.
IFES: Has the cholera outbreak affected the preparations or the enthusiasm towards the election?
SL: To some degree, it has. People are afraid, obviously. They don’t want to get sick. We have to spread the message that you don’t get cholera by standing in line at a polling station. In fact, the CEP sent a request to the international community that has been answered: Many of bars of soap have been purchased and will be distributed on polling day. The best way to avoid getting sick is to use clean water and wash your hands often and keep clean. In Haiti not everyone can buy soap, so distributing soap may be a good way to help people and get them to come to the polls.
IFES: When will the results of the elections be announced?
SL: Counting will take place the night of the election. At 6 am the next day, the tabulation center will begin to receive the counting protocols and will start entering the results. The tabulation takes about 5 days but there are also very strict quality control procedures that are implemented. So the results are expected to emerge from the tabulation center around December 7. The CEP will then announce the results sometime after that, maybe even on the same day.
IFES: When will the second round take place?
SL: We’re expecting the second round around January 16, but nothing is official yet. The second round needs to take place around that time because the parliament needs to be in place by the end of January to swear in the president in early February.
IFES: Thank you, Sophie, and best of luck on Sunday.