The Haitian elections are at an impasse with no clear path out. I was in Haiti last week when the rioting broke out over the elections results. I had been asking my Haitian friends what they thought would happen.The most common response was, "I don't know what will be announced, but I don't think the results they announce will have anything to do with how people voted on the 28th." Like most organizations, we closed our office early on the day that the results were announced to allow our staff to get home before the storm broke.
That night, the CEP representative was shaking as he read the results that put Preval's Unity party in a strong lead for controlling the parliament and then announcing that their candidate had made the cut and would be part of the run-off for the presidency.
I spent the next days and a half holed up in our guest house as we listened to the reports of the protests that spread throughout the country then fled out through the Dominican Republic when a light rain kept the protesters home (it was a bit odd being the person from Washington who had to be evacuated out of the country rather than the one was expected to hold down the fort!).
A week later, the situation can only be described as stuck. I am sadden that my election day report of the fraud turned out to be more accurate than my more upbeat recanting from the next day. It seems that there are three broad paths that could lead towards resolution, although none of them will be easy:
1. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead: The Haitian government is still claiming that the fraud was limited and that the results are basically legitimate They claim that they will do better in the second round. This is basically the position that the OAS took in the days after the election. However, the fraud has been widely reported. The opposition candidates have said that they will not accept moving forward with the current electoral council. If the government appears to move down this road by announcing final results on Monday and that they will hold the elections on January 16th as planned, the protests are likely to erupt again. It could then come down to a contest of wills--are the protesters willing to block circulation in Haiti for long enough to force the government to back down or will they keep it up for a few days and give up and go home.
2. The Martelly Solution: Michel Martelly is suggesting that a new electoral council be formed and that the elections be reheld on the date that had been proposed for the second round (January 16th) with a winner-take -all approach--dropping the requirement that a candidate needs 50% or must go to a second round. I assume that he is proposing this solution for the entire election, not just the presidential election. Logistically this would be a nightmare. I don't know if a credible electoral council could be formed, but there certainly would not be time to hire and train new poll workers. I suspect that it would take at least three months to pull this off.
3. The Nuclear Option: The most drastic solution would be to declare the elections to be a failure and to wait out the rest of Preval's consitutional mandate then have a transitional government installed on February 7th. Although the Haitian Constitution only allows a transitional government 90 days to organize new elections, it took nearly two years after President Aristides' departure in 2004. My impression is that most Haitians would welcome a break from the electoral mess--they just want to get on with their lives. However, the Haitian politicians and the international community would have great trouble accepting this solution since it clearly shows that they failed in helping the Haitian government to organize credible solutions. It will also result in a long transitional period when there is no one with the moral authority to take hard political decisions.
Three bad options. Ideally, some sort of compromise would be worked out that would allow the country to move forward. In 1994, the Dominican Republic faced this choice. President Balaguer had clearly stolen the elections from the opposition candidate Peña Gómez. After days of protests, the two leaders sat together and worked out a compromise wherein Balaguer agreed to hold new elections in two years and to not run. He honored his word, the elections were held, Peña Gómez lost to President Fernandez, and democracy took root in the Dominican Republic.
I hope and pray that something similar could happen in Haiti.