Haiti is currently in the process of conducting a three-cycle calendar of elections involving the vote for presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. While violence in the second round of voting in October was lower than in the first round held in August, ongoing conflict continues to disrupt the electoral process.
Some of the Haitian elections have been delayed for years over political infighting between the incumbent and opposition parties. The first round of parliamentary elections was held on 9 August 2015 followed by the first round of presidential, second round of parliamentary, and municipal elections held on 25 October. The second round of the presidential election and other local elections will be held on 27 December.
An unfortunate truth associated with elections in Haiti is that violence has been a persistent characteristic since elections were instituted in 1987 after the collapse of the Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier regime. And, while the 9 August and 25 October elections were not exceptions, the conflict dynamics from these two events were different.
For the 9 August election, electoral violence was largely absent during the early pre-election period. The explanation for this absence was that a lack of funding for candidates and parties had dampened the level of campaign activity and, hence, the targets of attacks.
However, as Election Day approached, the frequency and lethalness of incidents increased with several assassinations of candidates for the post of deputy. Administrative shortfalls on Election Day triggered violent reactions from voters who were disenfranchised because of issues with voter registries and their lack of understanding of the location of the polling station to which they had been assigned to cast their ballots. In some cases, voters captured polling stations and destroyed sensitive electoral materials. The post-election phase experienced further polling station capture and protests by disgruntled voters.
The period following the August 9 election was largely violence-free. That notwithstanding, there were a series of incidents in Cité Soleil on Friday 16 October, which must also be noted as politically-motivated violence, but placed in a different context from electoral violence. This contextual difference is that these incidents were triggered by proximate factors of gang rivalries employing the election as a vehicle to make money and not using violence to achieve a political objective.
In the October election there were a few assaults on candidates and observers with injuries resulting, but there was no loss of life, unlike in August. Political party agents, who are termed “mandataires” in French, were the principal sources of threats and intimidation against poll workers and voters alike. Verbal confrontations, intimidation tactics, and physical assaults were employed to influence the voting at polling stations. Sensitive election materials were destroyed. As a result, while the October elections was not violence free, the intensity and volume of incidents were reduced from those experienced in August.
Analysis and recommendations
What accounts for this reduction in electoral violence? The diminished lethal violence should be considered from two perspectives – mitigating factors and changes in tactics.
The Electoral Violence Trajectory in Haiti
Mitigating factors included preventive diplomacy by the international community meeting with political party leaders and candidates to condemn electoral violence. The Organization of American States (OAS) introduced the monitoring of electoral violence within the scope of its observation activities. Similar pressure by Haitian leaders complemented the international initiatives. Another set of mitigating factors involved improved polling station administration which reduced the kinds of management shortfalls which triggered Election Day violence. Finally, in the immediate post-election phase, the Haitian media and domestic groups were laudatory about the administration of the election and the reduction in lethal violence.
However, in response to these mitigating factors, the perpetrators also changed their tactics from lethal to non-lethal ones. In order to achieve their political objectives, the perpetrators were compelled to make tactical decisions about what forms of violence would not trigger public opprobrium but still remain effective. The new choice was physical assaults, personal intimidation of poll workers and fellow candidate supporters, and destruction of sensitive materials. The first round election results were announced on 5 November with Jovenel Moise (PHTK) leading with 511,992 votes (32.81%), followed by Jude Celestin (LAPEH) with 394,390 votes (25.27%). Even though there were 52 losing candidates, the announcement of the presidential elections did not trigger violent reactions. There were complaints about fraud, but no street actions or confrontation.
However, this was not to be the case with the announcement of the second round. Initially, the announcement was met with some violent and lethal confrontations between political rivals. After a couple of days, the reaction to the election results began manifesting itself in large, but peaceful demonstrations protesting against the election outcomes. Those demonstrations have persisted to this posting and their trajectories into violence or dissipation are unknown at this time.
The 27 December second round election is high-stakes and the competition is between the two strongest political networks in the country with sufficient resources for both licit and illicit tactics. Preventive diplomacy should continue in this electoral cycle with the presidential candidates, and further refinements to electoral security arrangements should be made. An assessment should be made on the impact of local council elections and the bifurcated conflict dynamics between a national level presidential run-off and the lowest level governing bodies. Through such initiatives, a downward trajectory of the intensity of electoral violence in Haiti can be fostered for the balance of the 2015 cycle of elections.