Haiti's National Elections: Issues, Concerns, and Outcome *

By Taft-Morales, Maureen | Current Politics and Economics of South and Central America, October 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Haiti's National Elections: Issues, Concerns, and Outcome *


Taft-Morales, Maureen, Current Politics and Economics of South and Central America


INTRODUCTION

Congress views the stability of Haiti with great concern and commitment to improving conditions there. Both Congress and the international community have invested significant resources in the political, economic, and social development of Haiti, and closely monitored the conduct of the 2010-2011 elections as a prelude to the next steps in Haiti's development.

Haiti has been struggling to build and strengthen democratic institutions for 25 years, ever since massive popular protests and international pressure forced dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to abandon his rule and flee the country in 1986. Known as "Baby Doc," Duvalier came to power in 1971, succeeding his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who had ruled since 1957. Their 29-year dictatorship was marked by repression and corruption. Hoping to reverse almost 200 years of mostly violent and authoritarian rule, Haitians overwhelmingly approved a new constitution creating a democratic government in 1987. De facto military rule, coups and thwarted attempts at democratic elections continued until a provisional civilian government conducted what was widely heralded as Haiti's first free and fair elections in 1990, in which Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest, was elected President. In the short term, elections have usually been a source of increased political tensions and instability in Haiti.

In the long term, elections in Haiti have contributed to the slow strengthening of government capacity and transparency. Elected governments have developed long-term development plans resulting in international technical and financial assistance. They have developed national budgets and made them public. The number of employees in bloated state enterprises has been reduced. The government carried out the fiscal management and transparency reforms necessary to qualify for debt relief from multilateral and some bilateral creditors under the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative in 2009. Human rights violations have been drastically reduced. Despite controversy over some aspects of the 2006 elections, Préval was accepted as the legitimate head of state by Haitians and the world community, and oversaw a period of economic growth and relative internal political stability before a devastating earthquake struck the nation in January 2010.

There is still much to be accomplished. Some parts of the government are not fully independent, the judicial system is weak, and corruption and political violence still threaten the nation's stability. Haitian governance capacities, already limited, were considerably diminished by the earthquake. Poverty is massive and deep, and there is extreme economic disparity between a small privileged class and the majority of the population.

The United States and other members of the international community continue to support efforts to hold free and fair elections in Haiti in the belief that in the long run they will contribute to improved governance and, eventually, improved services to Haitian citizens and greater stability which will allow for increased development. Congress has given bipartisan support to this policy approach.

BACKGROUND TO THE RECENT ELECTIONS

The road to democratic development has been bumpy, and the international community became increasingly involved in trying to keep Haiti on that road. Aristide was overthrown in a military coup eight months after he was inaugurated. For three years, the coup leaders resisted international demands that Aristide be restored to office. Only when faced with a U.S. military intervention did the regime relent. Aristide returned in 1994 under the protection of some 20,000 U.S. troops, who transferred responsibility to a United Nations mission in 1995. With U.S. assistance, President Aristide disbanded the army and began to train a professional civilian police force. In 1996 Haitians saw their first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents when Aristide was succeeded by Rene Préval. …

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