“By the end of this year, we will put the country into electoral mode,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry told the country on Monday, pausing before setting a date.
Even Henry, who had previously postponed the planned general election amid criticism of the then electoral council, felt compelled to defend the delay. “To all those doomed rumors that I intend to keep power, I say it is false,” he added.
The elections are long overdue. The last time Haitians were able to choose their political representatives was in 2016. The parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019 were never organized under the then presidency of Jovenel Moise, nor the subsequent general elections.
The Caribbean nation was then ruled by decree for three years, first under Moise until his shocking assassination last year, and now under Henry, his designated successor.
On either side of both men was the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Known as BINUH, this political mission will mark its third anniversary of operations this October, but faces growing challenges as the time to vote gets longer.
‘Let’s have the next elections’
Helen Meagher La Lime, head of BINUH and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, told CNN that her goal is to help Henry’s government reach a consensus with opposition and civil society leaders to get started. to organize elections. The trial began last year in the wake of Moise’s assassination and has so far proved painfully slow.
“We have a lot of work to do to get to the elections, we have to get this consensus established so that an electoral council can be established. They have to do some work on the Constitution, revisions or a rewrite of the Constitution have to take And then the elections have to take. be organized, “La Lime said last month, in his first interview since BINUH’s one-year term was renewed by the United Nations Security Council.
Large swathes of Haiti’s opposition say they don’t trust Henry to hold the elections, instead calling for a transitional government to take over the country first. Some also view La Lime and other outsiders with skepticism, in a country where imperialism, occupation and even well-intentioned intervention have a long and brutal history.
“Henry must not be allowed to use his support from the international community to continue to concentrate all powers under his sole and bankrupt leadership,” wrote Jacques Ted St Dic, a member of the Montana group coalition that supports a government of transition, in an editorial published last week by Just Security.
“Without legitimacy and popular trust in the electoral process, the elections to be held will be questioned and the new leaders will not have the popular support to initiate the reforms they so desperately need. This is the cycle that has stuck Haiti in paralysis for a dozen years, “he said. so she wrote.
Lime declined to discuss the possibility of a transitional government, telling CNN, “These are ideas that need to be discussed by Haitians and a consensus reached by Haitians.”
Instead, he extolled the simple power of shared dining, provided by BINUH at a local hotel, for bringing together political voices in Haiti. Based on that dialogue, he predicted that the country could potentially reach elections in 2023 and even suggested that BINUH itself may no longer be needed afterwards.
“Let’s get through the next election to see what levels of stability we have at that point. And then BINUH will consider leaving,” says La Lime. “We’re not here forever.”
Make Haiti safe for a vote
The current context of violent unrest in the capital Port-au-Prince makes it difficult to imagine the organization of the elections, even for those who want to change more.
Brutal gang battles in parts of Port-au-Prince this summer saw entire neighborhoods catch fire, displacing thousands of families and trapping others in their homes, fearful of even leaving in search of food and water. Hundreds were left dead, injured or missing. Criminals still control or influence parts of the country’s most populous city, and ransom kidnappings threaten the daily movements of residents.
Part of a larger ecosystem of UN entities and NGOs operating in Haiti, BINUH’s operations are largely limited to the advice and assistance of the Haitian Government and National Police (HNP). His regular reports are powerful and detailed and document the state of civil society, politics and human rights in the country in strong language.
Recognizing the security crisis, BINUH hires several dozen officers as consultants within the police and the UN has also announced a new “basket fund” to support the police, which aims to raise 28 million over the next two years. But that money goes towards long-term goals such as funding recruitment and training, increasing women’s representation in the military, and improving infrastructure and police stations, La Lime said.
“The United Nations can’t fix anything,” La Lime told CNN. “The United Nations can work with the Haitian government and Haitian institutions to produce a better outcome.”
Impatience is growing. In recent weeks, protesters in several cities have called for Henry’s resignation in the face of high fuel prices, rising inflation and uncontrolled crime. Henry acknowledged the popular fury on Monday, calling for calm, but also announced that he would raise gas prices, sparking further protests.
And in August, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, criticized the global benefactors, labeling the efforts of the international community in Haiti as “one of the worst and most glaring failures implemented and executed in the framework of any international cooperation”.
Lime readily recognizes critics. “Yes, the results aren’t what they should be,” she told CNN.
However, his job is not to take responsibility for the past, nor to take much of it now, he suggests.
“I think what we need to do is look at the lessons to see what we need as we need to work differently. I don’t think we have put enough emphasis on partnership. In other words, what does the Haitian side need to do to make the effort. more sustainable? “