Witnessing Haiti’s Path to Democracy
After three years, IFES’ project in Haiti advising the Provisional Electoral Council is coming to an end. This is the latest in a number of different programs IFES has implemented over the past 20 years to help promote democratic participation and improve the electoral process. Sophie Lagueny, IFES Chief of Party in Haiti, answers some questions on life and democracy in Haiti.
Question: It seems Haitians have long struggled for democracy. As someone who has observed their process, where do they stand now?
Answer: As the poorest country (per capita) in the western hemisphere, Haiti faces significant challenges in terms of political and economic development. Haiti’s democratic path over the past two decades has been uneven due to weak institutional arrangements and poor performance that have contributed to a lack of stability and a decline in public confidence. The election of President Martely earlier this year, in addition to the renewed international interest in Haiti’s development and recovery, provides a new window of opportunity to create a healthy and productive democracy.
Q: How much did the January 12, 2010 earthquake affect their quest to have better election and governance, and can you still see the effects of it today?
A: The situation before the earthquake was not easy but Haiti had reached some sort of political stability and there were small signs that the economy was improving. Unfortunately the earthquake annihilated it all, and Haiti took a giant step backward.
The influx of international aid in response to the earthquake has been heartening and well received by the Haitians. The recovery that continues has been assisted by the generosity of so many different nations. The world has stood with Haiti over the past two years and it will continue to need the goodwill of many to achieve a more productive and sustainable democracy that meets the aspirations of its people.
Q: Please tell us about IFES’ programs in Haiti.
A: IFES has worked in Haiti since 1991 providing technical assistance to ensure free, fair and transparent elections. IFES’ current project in Haiti, which began in 2008, has been providing the CEP (Electoral Provisional Commission) assistance with the revision, printing and distribution of procedural and training manuals; the design and implementation of a nationwide door-to-door civic and voter education campaign; and procuring equipment for the accreditation of political parties, observers, media and diplomatic missions. Our most recent effort involves presenting suggestions and recommendations for an improved communication strategy to the CEP.
Q: As someone who cares deeply about Haiti’s democratic future, what are your recommendations for Haiti going forward?
A: In order to ensure a durable democratic institution, it is important that the CEP become a permanent Electoral Commission. This will allow for the organization to have a permanent cadre of professionals with the skills and capacity to deliver free, fair and transparent elections, thus rebuilding the public’s trust in the institution and the electoral process.
It is also important to support the strengthening of governance structures as a whole to be able to deliver better services and help raise the standard of living of all Haitian people.
Q: On a more personal note, what are your lasting memories of working and living in Haiti?
A: I will never forget the courage shown by the Haitian people in the days and weeks following the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake, and their resilience since. I really hope the years to come will prove beneficial, both socially and economically, so that Haiti can finally develop its enormous potential and be what it can be.