Haiti Election UpdateRich Stigall
Thousands of you who follow The Global Orphan Project have a special heart for Haiti. We want to give you some important information about the election process taking place right now.
Why Is This Election So Important?
There’s a huge chronic mess in Haiti and devastating acute pressure from the earthquake and cholera outbreak. Millions of international aid dollars (much of it from the US) are sitting on the sideline. The next president will be the one responsible to manage the billions in redevelopment. Managing money has not been a historical strength of Haiti’s past leaders. And there’s an awful lot of extended suffering among the people and pent-up pressure.
What’s Happening With the Haiti Presidential Election?
Rene Preval is Haiti’s current president. His political party is called the Unity Party. President Preval tapped a man named Jude Celestin to be his protege, candidate of choice, and Unity Party candidate for president. Celestin enjoyed Unity Party financial backing in the run-up to the election.
Haiti held the first round of its election on November 28 with more than 20 candidates. The election works as follows… Round 1 occurs. If the leading vote getter doesn’t get more than 50% of the popular vote, then the top 2 vote getters go to Round 2 – a runoff scheduled for January 16.
Three frontrunners emerged on the eve of the election: Celestin, Mirlande Manigat, and Michel (“Sweet Micky”) Martelly. Manigat is a 70 year old Sorbonne educated law professor in Haiti, and is a former First Lady of Haiti (her husband, Leslie, was president for a few months in the late 1980s and was ousted in a coup). Martelly is one of the most famous carnival muscians in Haiti. Martelly enjoys deep and passionate support among sections of Haiti’s youth, particularly young men in Port au Prince.
With all of the woe and grassroots desire for change in Haiti, Celestin became an extremely unpopular candidate among protesters and those speaking the loudest in Haiti. They see him as “more of the same,” ie, a Preval backed traditional Haiti government guy who’ll do nothing for the people. Manigat seemed to have the broadest support. Martelly seemed to have the loudest and most passionate support on the streets.
When the election occurred, there were widespread reports of election fraud and intimidation designed to favor Celestin and the Unity Party. Word quickly spread on the street that a fix was in for a Preval handoff to his guy. Protests (called “manifestations” in Haiti) quickly began that this was a bogus, invalid election. Manigat and Martelly immediately renounced the election and said that the results should be invalidated and there should be a do over.
In the days following Round 1, independent international poll watchers began reporting “unofficial” return information indicating that Manigat and Martelly were a clear 1 and 2, with Celestin a distant 3rd. These unofficial reports kept the streets pretty much quiet, in hopes that any alleged “fix” would be moot. With this unofficial reporting, Manigat and Martelly withdrew their objections to Round 1.
Then the plot thickened. While awaiting Round 1 results, a furor built among Martelly’s followers. They insisted that if Martelly wasn’t in the top 2 with Manigat, then it meant the government fixed the election for Celestin. The ire towards Celestin grew fast and furious. The battle was pitched as Government v. People, with Martelly as the representative of the People.
Last night, the Provisional Electoral Council announced the results. Manigat was pronounced first and Celestin second, with Celestin narrowly edging out Martelly by less than 1%. That means Manigat and Celestin will be in a run off in January, since neither got 50% or more of the popular vote.
The U.S. Department of State immediately issued a disturbing statement that the announced results were at odds with credible unofficial results (that had Manigat and Martelly a clear 1, 2).
Any candidate wishing to contest the results may do so within 3 days. Martelly will undoubtedly do so.
Martelly’s supporters aren’t waiting for the contest. They started protests last night. Those protests have escalated and continue to escalate all over the country, with the most heat in Port au Prince. Their mantra is that they’ll “burn Haiti” if Martelly isn’t named the president.
What’s Happening Now?
The protests have escalated in Port au Prince, Les Cayes, Cap Hatien, and elsewhere. Protesters are burning tires, lighting buildings and other things on fire, blocking streets. The place is a mess. American Airlines has canceled its flights into Haiti.
For GO Project, we’ve canceled a vision trip that was set to leave Thursday. Our staff is staying out of the fray in lock down. Moise and Francoise Vaval were in Florida until last night. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to fly back home this morning, as their flight was canceled. Please pray for them. They desperately want to get home to their children.
I’m not sure. The election contest period is 3 days. It’s hard to envision things calming down now or in the contest period as long as the top 2 are Manigat and Celestin rather than Manigat and Martelly.
We’ll keep a close eye on things vis a vis our scheduled trips. If you are scheduled to go on a trip in December or January, know that we’re on top of this situation and we will keep you posted. If we believe we’re sending people into foolish risk, we’ll cancel a trip. And we’d let you know of that decision immediately.
Haiti’s in the throws of what could be its great turning point. The situation is tough. However, the situation has actually been much better and more calm than many elections in developing nations around the world, even with all of the unfathomable crud that’s happened there this year. I pray that will continue to be the case. So much is at stake for so many wonderful, hurting people in what can be a beautiful place.