There have been continuing social unrest in Haiti since mid-2019. Even though protests have variety of reasons, what is common among all is the discontent with President Jovenel Moise. The intense protests in capital city Port-au-Prince are society’s reflections to the democratic backsliding Haiti has been experiencing. Though democratic backsliding is a gradual process, government’s insufficient responses to economic and political crises, piled up with the poor management of the coronavirus pandemic have further deepened the issue of lack of accountability, which makes this period an important checkpoint to understand Haiti’s democratic downgrading.
The government has failed to hold elections on time in October; as a result, lower house deputies’ and some senators’ terms have expired . The government and the opposition failed to agree on electoral law and to set a date. When the lower house and senate left empty, street protests about election frauds had been triggered once again. The country has been ruling by executive decrees of the President Jovenel Moïse since January. Rule by presidential decrees as the main legislative function significantly erodes the quality of democracy and causes lack of parliamentary representation. Representation crisis also includes the political division between urban and rural regions. Moreover, there was already a mistrust to the president who is now single-handedly ruling the country, due to election fraud accusations in the presidential election of 2015 . Moise won the election in 2015, yet that election results was annulled, and next election held almost a year later in 2016, resulting in again Moise’s victory. Coming back to today, Haiti’s streets are filled with protestors, dissatisfied with the slide into rule by decree, asking for presidential resignation of Jovenel Moïse .
Another aspect of this political crisis is country’s economic constraints and dependence on foreign aid pushing the President Jovenel Moise to appoint a legitimate Prime Minister and cabinet; in order to receive international aid, especially to deal with coronavirus crisis . As a result, it is now more critical to agree over an electoral date for parliament as soon as possible for both the government and the opposition. In addition to IMF, possible foreign aid sources like European Union and World Bank are putting pressure on Haiti to provide more social assistance and to fight against corruption by refusing to assist before meeting IMF demands . Haiti had a very insufficient health care system even before the increasing demand after coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 . It was reported in 2019 that Haiti with its approximately 11 million population only has 124 ICU beds and 64 ventilators available. In general, political gridlock which resulted in rule by presidential decrees is not sufficient for Haiti’s current political environment. Both the violent protests which have paralyzed the state functions and the immediate necessity of foreign aid to overcome coronavirus crisis can be resolved only through improving the quality of democracy in Haiti.
In addition to the fact that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world; according to the data provided by IRFC, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere with 59% of its population living under poverty line. Haiti still suffer from reconstruction problems since the earthquake a decade ago. People are dissatisfied with US backed President Moise’s economic policies, along with the corruption accusations of the opposition groups . Lately, some cut in the foreign funds have caused a food shortage in the country. While food shortages, corruption accusations and deepening economic crisis were continuing shots were fired in the capital city during a police protest. The police were protesting low wages and working conditions and government’s priorities to distribute and spend money . In fact, country was preparing for the Haitian Carnival where government spent a sizeable expenditure while police protests were ongoing. All these protests over economic conditions reflect atmosphere in Haiti in which a great size of the population do not find the government legitimate while president is not stepping down or more importantly not compromising. Consequently, democracy in Haiti continue to fade away in which compromise is missing.
Haiti has to find a way to reassure the legitimacy of the government and to solve the representation crisis to change the direction of this trajectory.