Because it’s remarkable bordering on absurd, let’s take a minute to walk through the past two months in Haitian democracy. On November 28th, 18 candidates lined up and the Haitian people were asked to choose who would succeed Mr. Preval as the country’s president. According to the Haitian electoral process, in order to win outright, one of the candidates would have had to win a majority vote, which – with that spread – was never going to happen. So, the top two vote-earning candidates were announced and would go on to a run-off election on January 16.
When the results of the first round were announced on Dec 7, the process suffered its first set-back (second if we’re including all the fraud on Nov 28, but that’s details, details). Mirlande Manigat, former first lady, won the plurality with 31% and so advanced to the runoff, which apparently no one was especially offended by. In second, Mr. Preval’s party’s candidate and son-in-law, Jude Celestin, provoked a significantly more heated reaction: Unité – Preval’s party – is unpopular these days, mostly because it has demonstrated little productivity in the twelve months since the earthquake and represents the status quo of a depressed economy, widespread sickness and abject poverty. Not an especially strong platform for Celestin to run on, and yet he found himself in the run-off as the second-most successful candidate. Michelle Martelly, a popular Haitian musician known for cross-dressing and exposing himself on stage, came in third by a 1% margin. This is the man most Haitians say they prefer to see in the runoff with Manigat. Take a leap of faith and just believe me on this.
In response to outrage about Celestin beating out Martelly, the OAS conducted a third-party evaluation of the results, somehow without actually doing a recount (I don’t portend to have all the answers. This makes as little sense to you as it does to me). Their recommendation was sent in something of a white paper to Mr. Preval last week and, in paraphrase: a change of position in the ranking of the second and third candidates in the list published during the preliminary results should be considered. In effect, they recommended that Preval pull his candidate from the race. Who wants to take the over-under on the odds of this working out (it’s a binary betting system…)?
The case now lies in the hands of the CEP – the Provisional Electoral Council (also appointed by Mr. Preval) – who will announce the path forward early next week.
Needless to say, the runoff election date – January 16 – came and went this weekend, and Haitians are no closer to a new regime. Meanwhile, Mr. Preval has announced he won’t abdicate on Feb 7, which he’s constitutionally required to do but admittedly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when there’s no successor. And, it gets better…
January 16 wasn’t a total wash. While Haiti didn’t get any closer to identifying the new head of state, it did welcome back an old favorite: Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier who ruled Haiti from 1971-86 as more of a playboy, profligate, and despot than as a man in any way concerned about Haitian development.. although- notably – he was a step up from his father’s (“Papa Doc”) legitimate insanity. Focus on the little victories.
So, Baby Doc showed up at the International Airport in Port-au-Prince on Sunday and told reporters that he’s come back after 25 years of exile in France to help his country through this especially difficult time. Whatever his actual reasons were for returning (perhaps penury after a divorce settlement left him posting employment ads in a local newspaper), it’s now clear that the Haitian government is taking the opportunity to question him and decide whether to move toward a trial that seeks justice for Baby Doc’s brutal and corrupt regime. Really? One could argue that there are a few too many crises in Haiti right now, and pursuing a man for crimes committed over 25 years ago – no matter how egregious – isn’t really on what we’ll call “the critical path”. Counterpoint: some justice is better than no justice at all. Maybe, but I’m not convinced.
There’s no more closure around the Baby Doc drama than about the next steps of the electoral process, but one thing’s for sure – there’s a lot of irony flying around here. Out of the ruins of the old Duvalier torture prison, Fort Dimanche, now abandoned, grew a slum. Its residents called it Village Demokrasi. Democracy Village.