Haiti presidential election: justice on the line

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's former ambassador to the United States (and Wyclef Jean's uncle), explains why he and other presidential candidates were unfairly disqualified from running.

Outgoing Haitian President René Préval has set the presidential elections for Nov. 28, 2010 and technical preparations are underway. But Haiti has failed the first fundamental test in holding credible elections – certifying candidates, and affording each due process under the law, equally and without discrimination.

On Friday August 20, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Commission (CEP) rejected, without any justification or explanation, the candidacy of 15 potential presidential candidates. The list of those disqualified included former Haitian government officials including me, high-profile public figures like my nephew, Wyclef Jean, as well as doctors, lawyers, and prominent persons from the diaspora.

For some disqualified candidates, a constitutional justification could be argued, though the CEP has historically interpreted the constitution at will. In other cases, such as mine, the decision appears blatantly arbitrary, without legal grounding, and motivated by the political agendas of a small ruling elite.

My case is indicative. The explanation for my disqualification, which has since been provided to me after I initiated legal proceedings, is that I did not properly discharge my responsibilities when I resigned from office as Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States on August 1.

This is untrue; a charge which could be immediately disregarded if the CEP was willing to review signed and dated correspondence between Haiti’s foreign minister and me. More troubling to me and others however, is that other Haitian government officials, some of whom did not even resign their official posts, were promptly qualified without such criteria.

"Haiti – No Leadership, No Elections"

The CEP’s disqualification of certain candidates plainly disregards the urging of Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, ranking Republican of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On June 10, 2010 Senator Lugar authored a report entitled, “Haiti – No Leadership, No Elections.” In a transmittal note to his Senate colleagues he cautioned that, “the positive effect of assistance programs will be limited if Haiti lacks a responsible, popularly elected government.”

Mr. Lugar urged the government of President Préval to move forward with a Nov. 28, 2010 election date, and empower the CEP to initiate preparations for electoral lists, identification cards, and voter education in advance of the election.

The senator also urged President Préval to undertake appropriate restructuring of the CEP to demonstrate a clear political commitment to contesting credible elections.

I have learned that under intense public pressure, the CEP is now reviewing my candidacy, along with the 14 other disqualified candidates, but we have no confidence that the review will be any less arbitrary. Every day we remain on the sidelines is a day other campaigns move forward. The officials are aware that with a Nov. 28 deadline approaching, all they need to do is run out the clock.

No transparency, no justice

If the selection of candidates is not transparent, how can one expect that the election will be open and representative? All disqualified candidates deserve first, a satisfactory explanation of their ineligibility. Next, those impacted must have an opportunity to challenge the CEP decision in an open and transparent process. This process must involve public participation, within a time frame that enables candidates to be competitive in the field.

A dispute-resolution process that is equally arbitrary just compounds the injustices.

My disappointment runs deep. First, I stand ready to serve my country at this critical time in history – an opportunity currently denied. Secondly, I had hoped that after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, the Haitian government (and the Haitian elite) would accept that things needed to be done differently – that political space should be opened up, as should real economic opportunities. No such change is evident.

Where is the international outcry?

But my greatest disappointment is with the international community that has vested billions in Haiti’s recovery. The Organization of American States and other donors have raised few if any concerns that election laws were applied arbitrarily for the purpose of narrowing a political field to preferred candidates. “This is Haiti,” one Western official told me. “We take what we can get.”

I ask you: Isn’t this the same mentality that has relegated Haiti to decades of mismanagement and poverty? Are we to continue making excuses for ourselves and perpetuate a culture of dependency, where the private sector is smothered by inefficiencies, handouts, and corruption? Didn’t we all agree, as former President Clinton said, to build a better Haiti from the rubble?

I urge Haiti’s international donors, who have responded with historic generosity to the earthquake Jan. 12, and committed more than $5 billion dollars to Haiti’s reconstruction over 18 months, to see that the letter and spirit of the Lugar Report is adhered to so that Haiti can have free and fair elections.

I return back to the words of Lugar’s report, “that the parties meet the CEP’s legal requirements and are not excluded from the elections because of perceived technicalities,” and then to his concluding remarks, “the people of Haiti are confronted with a unique opportunity to fundamentally alter the trajectory of their economic, social, and political future. President Préval and his administration should view the elections of 2010 as a moment to signal clearly their commitment to a democratic framework and good governance.”

I couldn’t agree more with the senator from Indiana.

Raymond Joseph served as Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2010. He resigned his office on August 1 to present himself as a candidate for the Haitian presidency.

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