Haitian Elections A Long-Overdue Chance To Foster Better Leadership

Aug 7, 2015

OPINION

Last week I slammed the Dominican Republic for risking its global image with an immigration policy that has unjustly made hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans targets for deportation.

A lot of Dominican readers pointed out that the Haitian government shares some of the blame for this humanitarian crisis. And while I stand by what I wrote about the D.R., I agree with them: The Haitian government’s administrative fecklessness – specifically, its inability to provide Haitian immigrants in the D.R. with adequate identity documentation that could have helped them secure legal status – is a culprit.

In fact, even Haiti’s ambassador to the D.R. recently called his government’s ID document program a “failure.” (He is no longer Haiti’s ambassador to the D.R.)

RELATED: Dissing the Diaspora: Why Can't Haitian Expats Vote in Sunday's Haitian Elections?

It’s a reflection of the chronically low level of leadership in Haiti – starting with President Michel Martelly, who reinforced his reputation as Caribbean court jester last week when he insulted a woman who, at a political rally, dared criticize his government’s performance.

Martelly, a former carnival singer known as "Sweet Micky," shot back in Creole: “She needs to get a man and go into the bushes" and have sex.

That oh-so-statesmanlike moment, which has prompted a number of cabinet members to bolt Martelly's administration in protest, was just the latest in a long line of sexist, homophobic and other asinine slurs the president has fired from his bully pulpit the past five years. And it gives you a hint of why Haiti’s rebound from its epic 2010 earthquake hasn’t exactly wowed the world.

Which is why this Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Haiti are so important. That is, the same parliamentary elections that should have been held three or four years ago, but were delayed thanks to a toxic standoff between the authoritarian Martelly and his dysfunctional opposition. Haiti’s Congress, in fact, has been shut down since January.

Haiti's long overdue balloting is critical: The western hemisphere's poorest country desperately needs fresh and more serious leadership if it's ever going to rise from the earthquake and get back on development track.

Sunday’s long-overdue balloting – and the Oct. 25 presidential race – are critical because elections are the furnaces where new political leadership is usually forged in any democracy. And Haiti, the western hemisphere’s poorest country, desperately needs fresh and more serious leadership if it’s ever going to rise from the quake and get back on development track.

Haiti’s politics is in chaos right now, as regular and sometimes violent street unrest keeps reminding us. In fact, its political institutions are so splintered the nation seems overrun by what folks there sardonically call “taxi parties” – parties so small their membership could fit in a taxicab. More than 100 parties are registered for Sunday, with more than 25 candidates vying for some congressional seats.

On the one hand, that unruly scenario doesn’t make governing Haiti any easier.

“It creates a huge challenge when it comes to things like forming a governing coalition,” says Florida International University political science professor Eduardo Gamarra, who spends a lot of time on the island of Hispaniola these days both observing and consulting in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

But on the other hand, Gamarra told me this week, it’s also a sign “that there are still people there who believe in Haiti, who’ve stuck it out and think it can overcome and break out of its mold.”

MORE MODERN GUARD?

Gamarra says that among Haiti’s more than 50 candidates to succeed Martelly (who, thankfully, may not run for re-election) there are prospects who seem to represent a more modern and moderate guard.

Among them: University of Miami-educated engineer Steeve Khawly, whose platform champions both entrepreneurs and environmentalists; and Dr. Maryse Narcisse, who represents a more pragmatic faction of the traditionally left-wing Lavalas party. (More hardline Lavalas leaders have called for Martelly’s resignation, but Narcisse has wisely argued he should finish his term due to Haiti’s history of interrupted presidencies.)

Haiti’s electoral commission has disqualified a number of would-be presidential candidates – including telecom entrepreneur and former Martelly Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe – on technicalities that in many cases simply illustrate the country’s political disarray. At the same time, rising partisan tensions and a shortage of electoral financing have poll observers fearing tomorrow's legislative elections will implode before ballots are even cast.

Some might argue that such a mess will make it impossible for quality leadership to emerge in Haiti. But right now, mess is all Haiti’s got. And all Haitians and the rest of us can hope for Sunday is that it produces at least a modicum of more reliable elected officials – and that officials like Martelly recede, to paraphrase the president, into the bushes.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.