samedi 8 août 2015

Despite appearances, Haitians not wild about elections

Delayed parliamentary polls set to be held on Sunday, but citizens more concerned about poverty and high unemployment.
08 Aug 2015 02:25 GMT | Haiti, Politics, Latin America
Rob Reynolds
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - At the Scoop FM talk-radio station in Port-au-Prince, it's all politics all the time.
In a country so poor that televisions are a luxury and more than half of adults can't read or write, radio is the best way for political candidates to reach out to potential voters.
On the day Al Jazeera visited, candidates packed the ramshackle halls and waiting rooms at the station, waiting their turn to go on air and be interviewed.
Among them was a distinguished looking man named Fred Brutus, who is running for president under the banner of the Parti Federaliste Haiti.
Inside Story: Protecting Haiti's homeless "Radio is the best medium in Haiti," Brutus declares. "You can use it and have a lot of capability to have success in politics."
To have success in the crowded, chaotic field of candidates running for office in Sunday's first round of parliamentary elections, Haitian office seekers also throw boisterous street parties. An Al Jazeera team wandered into a political rally under way in a back street in the Petionville district of Port-au-Prince.
Hundreds of people, many wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the likeness of a local candidate for the chamber of deputies, danced, sang, and pounded out an infectious beat on an array of drums. Teenage revellers far too young to vote gyrated and blew long blasts on home made vuvuzelas.
Watching this scene, one might think that Haitians are wildly excited about the upcoming election.
But a young man who gave his name only as Rudy told us most of the people were paid to participate.
"Some of the people here, they already got their money," Rudy said. "Me and my boys, we are just waiting till after the rally to get paid."
Away from radio stations and rallies, most Haitians we spoke to couldn't care less about the elections.
Every morning, Micheline Joseph sets out an assortment of battered aluminium pots and pans beside a busy street. She's a street food vendor, offering plates of rice topped with greenish sauce for sale to passers-by. The elections are low on her list of priorities.
"I voted in the last election and all that happened was the price of rice went up, and then beans got more expensive," she said. "I don't see how elections change anything."
Her views are fairly typical of many in this country, where unemployment is at 40 percent, the average income is $840 per year, and most people live in severe poverty.
Down the block from Micheline Joseph, Nicholas Simon sat behind the tiny stall where he scraps out a living carving rubber stamps and fixing broken watchbands.
He says he's completely fed up, with politics, the economy, and even his country itself.
"Right now, I'm doing everything I can to leave this country. I can't stand living here," he told us.
A neatly dressed man, who gave his name as Anthony, stopped and showed us a briefcase full of carefully printed diplomas and letters of recommendation, certifying him as an electrical engineer.
He's spent the morning looking for work. When asked if there were many jobs for people like him in Haiti, he merely laughed.
One way to get a job is to try to get elected.
There are 40,000 Haitians running for office, including 70 presidential candidates, 1,800 candidates for the 118-seat chamber of deputies, and thousands running for local office in towns and villages.
In Port-au-Prince, the unsmiling faces of candidates stare down from posters plastered on every wall, door, and telephone pole.
Running for office costs money, and some Haitian candidates say there's a lot of dirty gourdes (the Haitian currency) floating around.
"A lot of people use bad money, like drug money and things like this," said Fred Brutus. "We have this problem in Haiti. And money talks, unfortunately."
Would-be Senator Jean Renel says he wants nothing to do with shady campaign funding.
"I've got people calling me every day, offering me money, but I refuse them," Renel says. "I want to be able to show the public exactly who is financing my campaign."
In Haiti, politics and violence go hand in hand.
In one of the worst incidents reported so far, a group of supporters of a local candidate gathered on a street corner in the district of Carrefour the night of July 22. A man on a motorcycle roared up, produced a pistol and began firing. He killed three men and wounded several others before escaping on his motorcycle.
When we visited the scene of the killings, a white banner was strung across the street, bearing the names of murdered men.
People in the neighbourhood believe the killings were an attempt to intimidate and create fear, to keep people away from polling places on Sunday.
Political violence has a long history in Haiti, and there were killings in previous election cycles in 2010 and 2011. This time, political analysts say tensions are high.
RELATED: US Red Cross 'squandered millions' in Haiti aid efforts
"It looks like violence is part of the equation now," says analyst and blogger Jean-Junior Joseph.
"Currently we have heard a lot of some examples of violence in many places. The more people who are interested, the more violence is an issue, and the more explosive it is."
Parliamentary elections were supposed to be held four years ago. But President Michel Martelly and his opponents couldn't agree on the makeup of a provisional electoral council as required by law.
So the vote was repeatedly cancelled and postponed, and the government machinery ground to a halt.
We visited the modest pre-fabricated buildings that now house Haiti's parliament (the much grander marble Palais Legislatif was destroyed in the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010).
A guard let us into the completely empty chamber of deputies. Overturned chairs were pushed against the wall, and the red-and-white bunting at the speaker's platform imparted an effect of sadness.
Someone appeared to have left an uneaten lunch on one of the deputies' desks. Since the elections were delayed for so long, all of the deputies' terms expired, and the chamber hasn't seen a single session since January.
Since then, President Martelly has ruled by decree, with an unelected group of cabinet ministers running things. Martelly's opponents accuse him of deliberately stalling the vote.
At the electoral council offices, Executive Director Mosler Georges assured us that this time, the election would go ahead as scheduled.
Georges says everything is prepared for the voting, but results will not be known right away.
"In Haiti there are very remote areas, difficult to access," he explained. "Getting the ballots from those places will take three or four days. But we should have preliminary results within eight to ten days after the election."
A detailed map on the wall of Georges' office showed hundreds of polling stations. Many of them were marked with bright red ink. "Historically all these places have a high risk of election day violence. That's why we have marked them in red," he said.
Serge Therriault, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who commands the international peacekeeping force's police division, says there will be enough Haitian National Police, backed up by international contingents, to ensure that polling-place disorder doesn't get out of hand.
Back on the street, Micheline Joseph had attracted a customer at last.
"If the election happens, it happens," she sighed, spooning a dollop of green sauce over the rice. "If not, it doesn't concern me very much."
For many Haitians, a plate of rice means a lot more than a slate of politicians.
Source: Al Jazeera

‘Legal bandits’ could take charge in Haiti’s parliament

The candidate for Haiti’s lower house had just left the studio of a popular morning radio show last week when a specialized unit of the Haitian National Police, acting on an April 2015 forgery warrant, picked him up and carted him off to jail.
Hours later, Alfredo Antoine, who previously spent three years in jail and is running under Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul’s KID political banner in Sunday’s legislative elections, was ordered released by a judge. As a candidate, Antoine automatically enjoys immunity from arrest under Haiti’s current electoral law.
Alfredo Antoine, a candidate for Haiti’s lower Chamber of Deputies, was arrested on a forgery warrant but then released because he enjoys immunity under Haiti’s electoral law.
Alfredo Antoine, a candidate for Haiti’s lower Chamber of Deputies, was arrested on a forgery warrant but then released because he enjoys immunity under Haiti’s electoral law.
Antoine’s arrest and quick release underscore the dilemma facing Haiti’s 5.8 million registered voters as the nation prepares to finally hold a long-delayed vote to restore its defunct parliament and end President Michel Martelly’s one-man rule.
Along with career politicians, entrepreneurs and activists, voters must also choose from dozens of accused kidnappers, drug dealers and others with criminal records who managed to make the final cut of the 1,855 candidates vying for 139 legislative seats, according to the country’s leading human rights group. Earlier this year, it published a report questioning the moral characters of 31 candidates who were “in conflict with the law.”
“There are people who are candidates who had their visa revoked by the United States” because they are implicated in criminal activities, said Marie Yolene Gilles, assistant program director of the National Human Rights Defense Network/Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH). The network’s calls to disqualify some candidates have been ignored by the Provisional Electoral Council, known by its French acronym, the CEP.
“One thing is certain,” Gilles said, “these elections will unleash a post-electoral crisis because the CEP didn’t do its job.”
Three years delayed, the vote is key to reconstituting the democratic structure in Haiti where parliament dissolved eight months ago amid a political crisis. But instead of a step forward, some fear that the elections will be just another effort to keep plundering the impoverished nation where corruption and crime don’t rank as top problems in polls.
Many see the candidates’ inclusion as a consequence of the weakness of a system where, they say, justice is for sale and more than 80 percent of the people jailed spend years in pre-trial detention without seeing a judge.
“It’s a weakness of the institutions. The justice system didn’t do its job,” said Gilles. Haiti’s failure to install a permanent electoral council also is to blame, she said. “Every CEP that comes in is obligated to create a new electoral law.”
When asked about candidates with criminal allegations against them, elections officials have said in local press interviews that there is a presumption of innocence. The electoral law, like the Constitution, requires a criminal conviction for disqualification.
But a Haitian National Police official, who asked to speak anonymously because he’s not authorized to give interviews, said this is the first time in recent memory the law governing elections does not require potential candidates to present a police certificate indicating whether they have a criminal history.
Still, in the days before registration closed, many did line up at the offices of the judicial police, known as DCPJ, to apply for the certificate in order to register. But after learning that it wasn’t required, some never returned to pick up their negative certificates. Other potential candidates, said the police official, were arrested on the spot after their outstanding warrants showed up, thwartingtheir registration.
“Many candidates have a negative police report. Despite that, they were approved,” said the police official who believes the number exceeds 31.
What is required under the law is a good citizen certificate from a justice of the peace and a judicial record from the court. One presidential candidate told the Miami Herald that when he handed his clean criminal record to an elections official as he registered, he was told, “It’s not needed. The law doesn’t require it.”
Nowhere in the current law does it explicitly say a police certificate is required. And while human rights advocates believe it’s a prerequisite for the good citizen certificate, in practice, justices of the peace don’t ask for the criminal records, the police official and others said.
Pierre-Louis Opont, the head of the Provisional Electoral Council, did not respond to several requests for comment from the Herald.
Haiti's legislative elections
Three years overdue, elections for parliament will finally take place in Haiti. The Haitian National Police will be taking the lead for security with some help from the UN Police.
Meanwhile, candidates can only be arrested if they are caught committing a crime. That immunity is extended once they are elected, making them practically untouchable throughout their six-year terms as senators, four years as deputies and five years as president.
The immunity issue was highlighted in 2012 when two members of the lower Chamber of Deputies, Rodriguez Sejour and M’Zou Naya Bélange Jean-Baptiste, were accused of orchestrating the murder of police officer Walky Calixte. The men were later indicted by a Haitian investigative judge, Jean Wilner Morin, who demanded that their parliamentary immunity be lifted. Fellow lawmakers refused. In June, an appeals court upheld Morin’s order. The decision came three years after Morin’s order, and after parliament had dissolved. The men are still awaiting trial, although local media report that Sejour has fled the country.
The immunity perk, alone, is the reason why many are running for elected office, observers say.
When Antoine went to apply for his criminal record from DCPJ on March 23, the unit didn’t know a judge had issued an arrest warrant. They were notified in July and picked him up 15 days later.
“His arrest wasn’t legal,” said Valéry Numa, the radio host of the Vision 2000 morning program.
This isn’t the first time Haitians have faced an election with candidates on the ballot accused of criminal wrongdoing.
In 2006, Willot Joseph was a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies while in jail for vehicle theft. Nevertheless, he won office and was released to assume the post. Four years later, after finishing his term in the lower house, Joseph tried to run for the Senate but a new CEP disqualified him.
This year, however, Joseph’s candidacy for the Senate under President Michel Martelly’s PHTK party banner was accepted.
Martelly is a singer who performed under the stage name “Sweet Micky” and parlayed his celebrity status into becoming president. To some, his 2008 song, Bandi Legal (Legal Bandit), has come to describe the incoming parliament.
“Because Martelly is president, it has opened an air duct. Almost everyone here thinks they can be president,” said Numa. And just as Martelly remade himself, Numa said, “you have candidates who are trying to remake themselves.”
One such character was Levelt Francois, who was removed from the list of presidential candidates because of a drug conviction after first being approved. After the electoral council’s decision, Francois made the radio news rounds, including Numa’s show, professing his innocence and claiming to be a victim of mistaken identity.
According to a file provided by Gilles’ organization, however, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince received a July 2002 letter from U.S. immigration officials requesting travel documents for Francois who had been convicted in 1988 of “possession with the intent to distribute crack and cocaine.” A deportation order was entered for him in 1997.
The most well-known of the infamous candidates running is former Haitian police official-turned-coup leader, Guy Philippe. Twice, Philippe was disqualified from running for elected office — in 2006 for the presidency after toppling former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a bloody coup two years earlier, and in 2009 for a seat in the Senate. This spring, however, Philippe’s candidacy to represent the Grand’Anse region in the Senate was approved.
In a radio interview, Philippe said all of his documents were in order. Gilles, however, said the human rights group confirmed that Philippe never received his criminal record from the judicial police. In fact, he never applied, said the police source.
Philippe is wanted in the U.S. under a sealed drug indictment and is the subject of a Haitian police arrest warrant seeking his extradition. When diplomats asked elections officials how Philippe was allowed to run, they were told no one challenged his candidacy, according to another source privy to the inquiries.
“He’s circulating; he’s campaigning,” Gilles said. “Don’t be surprised if you have a parliament with Guy Philippe in it. I don’t know how the U.S. government will deal with him as a lawmaker.”
With only days left before the vote, Numa says it’s either up to Haiti’s judicial system to step in or voters to use the ballot box to support rule of law. “What you have is an election of money and guns that’s being conducted now,” he said.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article30459984.html#storylink=cpy