Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s current head of government, was supposed to hold presidential elections back in October of 2019. They have been continuously postponed. How are Haitians reacting to this and what effect has this had on Haitian democracy? Haiti has had a long and hard history with democracy. The country’s transition to democracy has been underway since 1986, and threats of democratic erosion continue to loom large. Many factors have contributed to their slow progress, including the 2010 earthquake that rattled the country, a cholera epidemic, and unprecedented government corruption. The current president, Jovenel Moïse, was elected in November of 2016 and has been dictatorially running Haiti since then. He was supposed to hold elections back in October of 2019 but has continued to postpone them. The most recent development in any progress to hold elections is that Moïse created an elections council to help organize the elections. The elections council has also been tasked with reforming the Haitian Constitution. Moïse’s requests to amend the constitution violate many articles of the constitution stating how it should be amended and what can be amended. Not to mention that if the requests go through, the Haitian public would have had no say in what is changing in their government’s constitution.
Democratic erosion has been on the rise in Haiti since it became a formal democracy in the 1980s. The 2010 earthquake, the UN-provoked cholera outbreak, and the constant corruption happening within the government and among Haitian elites have all contributed to the decay of Haitian democracy, with the delay of elections and proposal of constitutional amendments by Moïse exacerbating the situation. The earthquake not only affected over three million Haitians, it sent Haiti into a backwards spiral of un-development and massive government debt. With the reconstruction costs from the earthquake exceeding Haiti’s GDP, and an already fragile government, the state lacked capacity to deal with such a large disaster. The earthquake led to the UN sending personnel into Haiti, which in turn resulted in a massive cholera outbreak that only just ended in January 2020. One of the reasons it took Haiti a decade to get rid of the waterborne disease is because of its corrupt government. The almost $13 billion that international sources funneled into Haiti after the earthquake is suspected to have been taken for personal use by the Haitian government elites, because it was not seen in the rebuilding and aiding processes. The conditions that Haitians are living in today are very similar to how they were living at the start of rebuilding and reconstruction.
Throughout 2020, Moïse has been ruling as president by decree. Moïse’s goal seems to be turning the government of Haiti from a fragile and struggling democracy, to an autocracy where he is the authoritarian leader. The electoral committee he has put together is the channel through which he wants to accomplish his goals. Because he appointed all of the members of the committee, and the international community (especially the United States) seems to be standing by and watching, the amendments that could turn Haiti’s democracy into an autocracy could be implemented before the parliamentary and presidential elections are held. President Moïse is pushing for this because he knows that if elections are held before the amendments can be voted on and written into the constitution, he will be voted out and Haiti will continue to be a democracy, although a fragile one.
The Haitian people have been protesting and showing their anger since the elections were postponed in October 2019. They have been unhappy with President Moïse and the lack of representation that they get within the government. Corruption has been widespread in Haiti for decades, and the Haitian people are now using their voice and protesting their government. These protests have taken violent turns in some cases, with the assassination of Maître Dorval, President of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, being one of the most talked about murders that have stemmed from these protests. Haitians protested in 2018 and 2019 in response to Moïse’s government and have resurfaced in recent months due to the continuing delay of elections. Because Moïse appointed the elections council and word was released that there would be amendments to the constitution, Haitians are enraged once more because their opinions and voices were not represented in the council and decision-making process.
Many factors have contributed to Haiti’s democratic struggles, but the delay of elections and the recent proposal of amendments to the constitution are a few of the main reasons why Haiti’s democracy is eroding. President Moïse is showing consistent signs of authoritarianism and is ignoring the opinion and voice of his citizens and the public. If the elections committee that he has put together approves his constitutional amendments, Haiti’s democracy could cease to exist within the next couple of years.