Voter participation in Haiti has been declining exponentially over the past few decades with the last presidential election only receiving at best estimates 23% of voters and at worst 17% of voters participating. So why has it been that polls that were once filled in the early years of this democracy have now gone barren? The answer could be in the past couple of decades where voters have gradually lost faith in their elected leaders.
Haiti made the transition to democracy in 1986 and has celebrated its 33 year anniversary this year. Yet, how did many Haitians celebrate this anniversary? Many protested in the streets causing damage to property, violence, and even leading to the death of a few protesters. These protesters took to the streets in all the major cities to express their frustrations with the rampant corruption by elected officials, lack of frequent and timely elections, and the weak state of their plummeting currency. Further, they are calling for the resignation of the current president Jovenel Moise. Before we continue though, it should be noted that Moise is not representative of the popular vote. This is because out of the roughly 20% of voters that showed up, he received roughly 600,000 votes which is roughly 10% of the registered voter population. So why is it that so many Haitians have lost confidence in their electoral process? To answer this, we should look at the concerns expressed by the people.
One of the main frustrations the Haitians have with their government is its leaders’ ties with the PetroCaribe oil alliance. The PetroCaribe oil alliance was created by Venezuela as a way for countries in the alliance to exchange petroleum among each other with preferential pricing and trade. Many Haitians are accusing Moise and other government leaders for misappropriating funds upwards of 1 Billion dollars to the alliance. Whereas these claims are currently being made, this is not the first incidence of claims of funds being misappropriated. This has led many citizens to lose faith in their elected leaders and cause unrest in parts of the country. But PetroCaribe is not the only complaint of the citizens in terms of the economy. Many Haitians are frustrated that in recent years their currency has been devaluing exponentially, the cost of living has been rising but the standard of living has not, and the strength of the currency against the US dollar has been growing weaker. It does not help that the government declared on February 9th of this year that Haiti is in a state of economic emergency. But the corruption prevalent in the government and the rapidly weakening economy are not the only reasons why voter participation has been decreasing at alarming rates over the years.
Many people point to the fact that a lack of Haitians confidence in their electoral system is half the problem. Another reason why Haitians are protesting in the streets and voter turnout is so low is because of the inability of citizens being able to exercise their right to vote. There are a few reasons for this disenfranchisement of a huge part of the population. One reason being the country still is recovering from Hurricane Matthew which destroyed 284 voting centers and washed out many roads. Further, the civil registry department of the government of Haiti has been increasingly inefficient and is actually aiding in the disenfranchisement of voters. Many of these voters are from the rural and poor communities who do not have access to voting centers or the necessary identification needed to vote at the polls. Hurricane Matthew led to many of the needed identification cards for voting to be lost or destroyed, and the civil registry is still trying to process/create new identification cards for people. But not only are the poor and/or rural populations being highly underrepresented, the amount of women in the government is also at a staggering low, and the disenfranchisement of women from the election process is also still a huge issue for this country.
One last reason why many Haitians have had frustrations with the government, especially in terms of the most recent presidential and parliamentary elections, is the lack of timely and scheduled elections. The most recent elections are a great example of this issue. The parliamentary elections held on August 9th of 2015 were rerun on October 25th of that year due to rampant voter intimidation, fraud, and violence which affected roughly 68% of voting centers. On the 25th of October that year, the first presidential election and second parliamentary election took place. But once again, the election was riddled with fraud, voter intimidation and violence, and a lack of confidence of citizens in the process. This suspended the run-off elections that were to take place on the 22 of January 2016, and led to the establishment of an interim government due to the citizens angers and outcries of corruption and fraud. Elections were once again stopped and rescheduled due to Hurricane Matthew which hit later that year, and the interim government scheduled elections for the 20th of November of that year. Finally, after roughly 15 months, Haitians got their election, even though a small percentage turned out, and a president and parliament were setup. But as shown in this post, it was not long before the citizens realized how undemocratic the system was and how corruption and fraud have been affecting their lives daily.
It is obvious that democracy has struggled to achieve its full potential for the state of Haiti. Since its birth in 1986, voter confidence and participation has been declining greatly. Further, it seems that the institutions one typically sees with a liberal democracy are still weak and prone to corruption and fraud. Not to mention the weakened state of the economy that has been gradually getting worse throughout the recent years. It leads one to speculate on what must be done to help this still weak democracy gain the confidence of its people, the strong institutions needed for governance, and the poor state of the economy. What does seem to be present though is that the citizens of Haiti still want democracy. They are rising up and protesting leaders and systems that have taken over their democracy and have riddled it with corruption, violence, and fraud. Yet, they are not calling for the dissolving of the democratic principles that were established in 1986. It seems that the Haitians have a long road ahead of them that they must endure to one day achieve and obtain the democracy they desire. One free of corruption, fraud, violence, and disenfranchisement of voters. If there is one thing we have observed about democracy is that it can be fragile and complicated in its early years and is prone to destruction early on. The fact that the democratic values and institutions are still supported in Haiti today should give us hope that they will one day achieve a strong, democratic government.
Photo by J. Augustini, Reuters