Jean-Pierre Cloutier

Note : Haiti Times cover story, October 1987.

The date has been set: the nation will go to the polls on Sunday, November 29. The National Council of Government has allocated $1.2 million to the Provisional Electoral Council to date, the U.S. government is expected to grant $4.9 million to the government to finance the PEC, the Canadian government will supply logistics equipment, the French are reportedly discussing on the degree of their involvement, so are the Germans. The Provisional Electoral Council has now been granted most of its wishes, maybe to the exception of the purchase and use of the Nielsen building judged too expensive by the government. Instead, the PEC has been installed in a downtown building formerly used by the Minoterie d'Haiti. It has started hiring management and support staff, and sent some of its newly-recruited experts abroad to familiarize themselves with electoral logistics. It has signed an agreement with the Interamerican Center for the Promotion of Electoralism (CAPEL) for cooperation in organizing the elections.

Although Dr Ernst Mirville, the president of the PEC is still recovering from health problems, the other members of the council are hard at work touring the country and setting up departmental offices of the PEC. The reaction to date has been favourable, but with varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on the areas visited. They have also met with some political leaders and candidates to discuss the coming elections, provisions of the electoral law, and the climate of uncertainty that many say could hamper the November 29 vote.

At stake on November 29 will be the election of a president, of 27 senators (3 per department) and of 77 deputes. The election of other levels of representatives has not yet scheduled, but an announcement by the PEC is forthcoming.


The November 29 elections will be conducted according to the August 10, 1987, Electoral Law. This "new" electoral law is the third version the country has seen emerge this summer. On June 6, the PEC had submitted a first draft, and on June 22 the National Council of Government issued what it thought the law should contain. Several discrepancies appeared between the original proposal and the government's version, which prompted a flurry of protest from the democratic sectors. While the country was going through its toughest moments of crisis since the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the PEC refined its draft and on August 6 sent it to the NCG for publication. The government complied, and published the third version which in fact is quite similar to the initial PEC proposal.

Eligible to vote are Haitians of 18-years of age or over, or naturalized Haitians if naturalization is more than five years old. Voters must be registered on lists and have a voter ID card. Voter registration offices will be allowed to handle a maximum of 500 voters, which means that there will be approximately 6,000 such offices set up to process the close to 3 million eligible voters.


The "depute" is elected for a period of 4 years by absolute majority (50%+1). Should the absolute majority not be reached by any of the candidates in one riding, a second turn election will be held on the second Sunday following the election, and only the two candidates having gathered the most votes on the first turn will be eligible to run. The deputes will officially enter office on the second Monday of January (articles 33-36).

Senators are also subject to the 50%+1 rule, and a second turn will be held in case no candidate has the sufficient number of votes. But since three senators are to be elected for each department, second turn rules are somewhat modified. If no candidate is elected, the 6 contenders having received the most votes are eligible to run. If one senator has been elected, 4 candidates will be eligible for the second turn, and if two are elected, only two other candidates will participate in the second turn. A third turn could be held if the results fail to show a 50%+1 majority for candidates. The Senate is renewed by one third of its members every two years, so for the wheels of change to be set in motion, the senator having received the most votes in the coming elections will be given a six-year mandate, the second highest in returns a four-year mandate, and the third one a two-year term in office. Senators take up their functions on the second Monday of January (articles 37-41).

Presidential candidates will also have to receive 50%+1 of the vote in order to be proclaimed elected, otherwise a second turn will be held in which the two candidates having received the most votes will be eligible. Elected for a five-year term, the president will be sworn in on February 7, 1988, and will then immediately take office (articles 42-45).


Non-refundable registration fees are requested from candidates and their amount varies according to the importance of the function sought: communal sections, $5; municipal councils, $40; deputes, $500; senators, $750; president, $1,000. These funds are made payable to the Direction Generale des Impots (DGI), which is the tax-collecting arm of the administration.

Voting procedures are described in detail by the Electoral Law. Each voting station will be monitored by a president and vice-president, named by the PEC, and by three other members. Those three members will have been suggested by candidates from a list handed to the local electoral office, and lots will be drawn to determine who will assist the PEC-designated personnel.

Campaigning regulations require that candidates wishing to hold mass meetings advise the police 48 hours in advance. Such meetings cannot be held for the 24 hours preceding the day of the vote. A three to six month jail sentence can be applied to any member of the forces of the law publicly campaigning in favour of a candidate. If not to vote, no one except members of the Electoral Council or members of the working press or members of the "Vigilance Brigades" can enter a voting station.


Article 88.2 of the Electoral Law defines a "Vigilance Brigade" as "a team of compatriots determined to act within a locality after consensus between religious, peasant and labour organizations, and civic and professional organizations." Their role is to: "1) Eventually help in maintaining order; 2) Prevent any undue pressure on voters; 3) Help guide voters to the appropriate voting station." The organization or group of organizations patronizing such brigades must communicate to the local electoral authorities the composition of the said brigade at least 72 hours prior to the day of the election. Members of the Vigilance Brigades must remain publicly neutral at all times, but they can inform the electoral authorities on any presumed irregularity.


Immediately after the closing of the voting stations (6 PM), the ballots will be counted by the voting station personnel in presence of representatives from the candidates and other persons authorized to be present. Within 72 hours, tallies for each department will be sent to the PEC, and then within 8 days, the Council is expected to officially announce the results. In case the need for a second turn becomes obvious, the results could be published within 8 days from the date of the vote.


But there is an intense debate for and against elections to be held. At the height of the "Rache Mayok" operation, several political leaders and presidential candidates said they would refuse to participate in an election if the present National Government Council was to still be in place. However, the trend is now reversing. Leslie Manigat, leader of the RDNP, summarized his position and that of several other candidates: "I know when the NCG will go and how it will go. It will step down when a president is duly elected, and it will hand over the reins of power on February 7,1988."

For Dr Louis Roy, former member of the Constituent Assembly, elections are a must. But not under just any condition. He founded an organization called Mouvement des Volontaires pour des Elections Libres en Haiti-MOVELH (Movement of Volunteers for Free Elections in Haiti). The group intends to get authorization from the Provisional Electoral Council to monitor electoral procedures with the help of volunteers all over the country, by sponsoring the formation of Vigilance Brigades. IFOPADA (Union of Patriotic and Democratic Forces), a pressure group for democracy, agrees that honest and free elections are a necessity, and supported the PEC in its efforts to guarantee their taking place. Felix Paul, a spokesman for the group, stated: "It is the People's fight which must continue, the fight for change. That's what the People want."

The PEC itself called on the population to vote massively in the coming elections. A massive vote represents for the council the only guarantee against dictatorship and despotism. But radical elements still insist that elections under the NCG cannot be held in a free and honest manner. The current wave of violence, blamed on the army by these groups, the on-going tragi-comical anti-communist campaign, and the loss of confidence of the people in their national institutions prevent Haiti from having free and honest elections. KID( Confederation for Democratic Unity), another pressure group, says it is not against elections, but opposes elections under the rule of the National Government Council, notwithstanding the "presumed" independence of the PEC. It fears the government may not give all the PEC needs for the organization of free elections, but might use the Electoral Council as a moral legitimization for shady procedures leading to another dictatorship.


A three-member delegation from the Haitian community in New York visited Port-au-Prince and met with PEC officials on September 18. Their goal: secure the right to vote for the 300,000 voting age Haitians in New York. They want to set up a local Electoral Council, which they will fund themselves by organizing fund raising activities, and then structure the voting procedures on November 29. Although the mission showed a great sense of idealism and demonstrated enthusiasm within the communities abroad, it is doubtful their request will be heeded. Neither the Constitution, nor the Electoral Law contain provisions for expatriates or exiles to vote while still on foreign land. However, in the future, legislations could include provisos on voting procedures for Haitian national living abroad. Several countries already have such stipulations within their electoral laws, such as the United States, France and Canada.


Former ministers under the previous regime, or those public officials who were entrusted with public funds and who are seeking elected positions must first obtain a discharge. But a certain controversy surrounds this discharge. According to the Electoral Law (Article 54.3.6) such a discharge must be granted by the "competent authority." Whether the Cour Superieure des Comptes (equivalent to a general accounting office) should give the discharges is debated. Normally, according to the 1987 Constitution (article 233) this task is given to the Legislative power, but the Legislative Assembly is not yet elected. As candidates will start registering, the loophole will have to be dealt with.

As for article 291 of the Constitution which prevents former Duvalierists from running for elected office for 10 years, its enforcement will be a hard task for the Electoral Council. The vagueness of the text and the number of cases believed to be involved might prevent any disqualification. "And what if people wanted to vote for a former Duvalierist" reflected an observer, "that's democracy too."


Of those that will seek the presidential chair in the coming elections, added to the ones who already declared their intention to run, two more names may soon be added. There is talk, although not yet confirmed by him, that former Finance Minister under the Duvaliers Clovis Desinor has intentions to be a candidate. One organizer whom we have met said the Desinor campaign was waiting for "Moment M" to get under way. Some persons close to him however denied he had such intentions, but remain assured of a good performance should he decide to challenge the electorate. Desinor would have to comply with the discharge provisions and probably find a way around article 291 of the Constitution. The "Desinor scenario" is widely talked about in political circles, and generates heated debates. As one observer commented, "If Desinor runs it will be a godsend for democracy and anti-Duvalierism because he will monopolize all the Duvalierist votes, and it will be a landslide victory for the other side." Others feel that if Desinor does not run, some other figure associated with the former regime will try and solicit the backing of the electorate.

Apparently leaving the already announced candidates in the middle of a fight, the "opposition" is reportedly trying to reach a consensus on a candidate of their own. This opposition includes the peasant groups, student and trade unions, the church base communities, democratic and human rights groups, and surprisingly enough, a good section of the small bourgeoisie, middle class and professional sector. If such a consensus on a candidate was to be reached, it would constitute a formidable backing for the chosen individual. But it could put the candidate, if and once elected, in front of an almost un-manageable situation trying to meet the expectations of all the sectors that backed him. Whether a consensus on a candidate can be transcended into a consensus for a new project of society remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, we feel, the least talked about aspect in the political debate is the lesser personalized, less glamorous offices of the deputation and the senate. Little attention is given to the Legislative Assembly which saw with the new Constitution a massive transfer of power from the presidency to the legislative body. It should be remembered that the Prime Minister, to be chosen among the party holding the majority in the Assembly, will be wielding enormous powers. To date, few candidacies to the deputation and the senate have been announced, so few names are circulating. One scenario describes Desinor winning the presidency, and choosing Alphonse Lahens as Prime Minister. Lahens will presumably seek legislative office in the northwest department.


Based on the schedule described in the Electoral Law, the nation will go to the polls on November 29. The second turn, because there is a certainty of a second turn at least for the deputation and senatorial level, should take place on December 6. If a third turn is required for selecting senators, it would be held on December 20. The legislative assembly (senators and deputes) will take office on January 10, and the president will be sworn in on February 7, 1988.

Of course, this calendar uses November 29 as a benchmark. Should the Electoral Council find it impossible to meet the deadline, the whole schedule would be offset. There is also talk of the communal and municipal elections date. Prior to, on November 29, or after November 29: at press time, the PEC was still deliberating on the issue.

Although this election will be the first genuine exercise in electoral democracy in over 30 years, and although in some ways Haiti is always different in everything it does, one can notice some familiar signs of electoral campaigns. Promotion T-shirts for candidates and parties (seldom worn outside of political rallies), posters and wall paintings advertising presidential hopefuls, and candidates kissing babies, shaking hands. Privately-hired security surrounding the candidates is omnipresent. Haiti might differ from many countries, but political campaign staples are just as present here as elsewhere.


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