WASHINGTON, October 15, 2016 – The Supreme Court of the Republic of Haiti announced yesterday that it is holding an emergency meeting in response to the announcement of the Provisional Electoral Council to hold elections on 20 November 2016.
George May Figaro, a spokesperson for the Court, explained that the justices are specifically meeting to discuss whether or not to invoke Article 149 of the Haitian Constitution.
That article states the following:
Should the office of the President of the Republic become vacant for any reason, the President of the Supreme Court of the Republic, or in his absence, the Vice President of that Court, or in his absence, the judge with the highest seniority and so on by order of seniority, shall be invested temporarily with the duties of the President of the Republic by the National Assembly duly convened by the Prime Minister- The election of a new President for a new five (5) year term shall be held at least forty-five (45) and no more than ninety (90) days after the vacancy occurs, pursuant to the Constitution and the Electoral Law.
According to the justices, there is no current legitimate president in Haiti, leaving a power vacuum and an opportunity for corruption. The press release from Supreme Court states:
Haiti is currently without a legitimate president. Mr. Privert’s term expired on June 15th, 2016 and he has remained in office without a mandate. Under Article 149 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court is charged with stepping in when the president is absent.
Haiti’s current political crisis began in October 2015, after elections that were widely seen as fraudulent. Mass demonstrations forced the nullification of those elections. The turmoil temporarily calmed in February, when outgoing President Joseph Martelly and the presidents of Parliament reached an agreement to install Senate President Jocelerme Privert as President of the nation.
Under the accord, Privert was installed for a period of 120 days, and new elections were set for April. Those elections were also delayed, as were 4 subsequent election dates.
Privert’s 120 days expired without any official extension, essentially leaving a President with no official mandate in power.
The most recent elections were scheduled for October 9, 2016, but were again delayed due to devastation from Hurricane Matthew. On Friday, the country announced the 20 November elections, although the devastation from the hurricane makes it unlikely an election can take place on that date.
According to an internal report by the Organization of American States’ Electoral Observation Mission published by the Miami Herald, the massive damage will make it very difficult to hold elections in that time frame. The report notes that a vast majority of polling places are damaged or inaccessible.
The idea of holding elections so soon after the hurricane is raising skepticism among Haitians. 43-year-old Emmanuel Eduard, who asked that his last name not be used, says the new date, “Is supposed to make us feel better. But it also means the politicians don’t really care about our vote. They want to push through an election to keep themselves in power. But we can’t vote. We can’t even get water. How can they hold an election so soon?”
The Court, it its statement, echoed similar concerns:
The Court is concerned that the announcement of elections scheduled for November 20th is a clear attempt to distort the election process. Hurricane Matthew devastated much of Haiti’s infrastructure making it impossible to hold elections in such a short time. Schools used for polling stations are damaged and a large majority of voters do not have identification cards to vote. Haiti is currently suffering a humanitarian crisis due to the high death toll, lack of food, water, medicine and the rise in cholera cases. By holding elections in the midst of a constitutional quagmire and so soon after a major hurricane, Haiti is in danger of repeating the October 2015 elections which threw the country into chaos.
The Supreme Court is most concerned with restoring democracy in Haiti, protecting human rights, and ensuring economic and political stability. Based on this situation, the Supreme Court is meeting to analyze the situation and make recommendations.
Invoking Article 149 would require a senior judge to step in as President and set up an interim government, including a new Prime Minister, to act until elections.
“Our goal is to ensure that the people of Haiti have a legitimate say in government,” says the Supreme Court Justices. “We want to set Haiti firmly on the democratic path and create economic prosperity and stability for the country. The first step in that process is a legitimate government.”
Haitian leaders are concerned about the reaction of the United States to any Haitian policy moves, and say the recent Wikileaks documents illustrate the strong hand of the United States in Haitian politics. Recent documents show that the Clinton Foundation played a direct role in supporting former President Martelly, and allege that the Foundation favored him because of his stance on policies that would assist Foundation goals.
The Justices have attempted to reach the US Embassy and the US Department of State regarding the current crisis, but Figaro reports they have not received any response to their calls or emails.
“I don’t know what all those politicians are doing,” says Emmanuel Eduard, “but I know they are not distributing our aid or taking care of our people. At least the Supreme Court wants the best for the Haitian people, not just for the politicians. That’s a start.”