My family and I are spending my sabbatical year in Haiti. These days are interesting times for Haiti. After five years in power, current President Michel Martelly (formerly best known as the pop singer Sweet Micky) is holding elections for the next president—who is supposed to assume power on February 7—as well as Parliament, and many local offices. (Because the elections are late, many positions have been vacant for some time.) However, the elections, which were to take place in three parts, the first two having been held in August and October 2015, have been accused of being fixed. The final round of the elections—which would determine which of the top two presidential candidates would win—was scheduled for yesterday, Sunday, January 24. An opposition candidate called last week “a week of rebellion” and the whole country tensed for what would come. Throughout the week, more and more voices—the Catholic Church, the Senate, the Association of Haitian Journalists, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.—joined the chorus that the August and October elections were fraudulent. Complicating the matter, the international community, including the U.S., continued to insist the elections were good enough so let’s move forward and have a new president on February 7. The runner-up candidate, Jude Célestin, dropped out of the race leaving the Martelly-backed candidate, banana exporter Jovenel Moïse, as the only presidential candidate. The United States sent several delegations to try to convince Célestin to run, but to no avail. President Martelly, the committee supervising the elections, and the international community continued to say the elections would go on. Starting Friday, the government attempted to ban demonstrations in the streets. On Friday at 12:40pm I got the following text message:
Citizen! Citizen! Do you want change? Go vote. On January 24, don’t stay at home, because on February 7 we must have a new president. Voting is your right and obligation.
Within a matter of minutes, however, the government made a short announcement that Sunday’s elections would not happen. The news spread over the capital and country like a ripple of relief and joy.
The future is unknown and very, very tenuous: how does one move forward under such circumstances? Now “the street” is demanding that President Martelly step down ahead of the February 7 date ending his term. What does one do with contested election results? Who fills all the empty government seats? Who even has the authority and trust of the country to oversee new elections or an inquiry into the past elections? An editorial in Haiti’s leading daily newspaper on Friday spoke of (loosely translated) “what thoughts go through the heads of those in the international community as they sip cocktails and denounce such ‘rebellious people’ and ‘incomprehensible politicians’? Are they already making plans to regain control?”
For myself, however, what I witnessed Friday was amazing: civil society condemned election results that the powerful—the current government and the international community—said should stand. And finally, the powers that be had to concede that the elections could not continue against the protests of so much of the country. In the United States, we sometimes have the tendency to reduce democracy to “one person, one vote” without examining how democracy is more than voting and voting, depending on how the ballot is created and who is able to vote and how freely, is not necessarily democratic. What I observed last week and the months previous was an engaged, committed, and largely peaceful civil society that has a vision for true democracy in Haiti and the world. May this vision become a reality, and may peace prevail.
From Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 25, 2016