Remarks by Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten - Haiti Elections, the View from Washington

Kenneth H. Merten
Special Coordinator for Haiti 
Haitian Americans for Progress w/ moderator Dr. Cassandra Theramene
via Teleconference
November 16, 2015

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY HAITI SPECIAL COORDINATOR (HSC) MERTEN: We are here today to talk about elections in Haiti. I appreciate your interest in this. As I think most of you know, the United States has been supportive of democracy and the democratic process, and of those that participated in it in Haiti for many decades now. We continue to be engaged and watch closely what happens. Our goal here is to see an outcome of the legislative and presidential elections that reflects as closely as possible what the Haitian people did at the ballot boxes.

As most of you probably know, Haiti has been going through this elections process, the first round of voting, in August of this year. It took a long time, unfortunately, to get to this point to have elections taking place because of a variety of disagreements amongst the key political actors in Haiti. But the good news is that the elections are taking place. The elections that took place in August were the first round of legislative elections. I think we certainly noticed that there were some challenges in how those elections took place, particularly in terms of people’s ability to actually vote, and the behavior of some of the party representatives. After those elections took place we made our views quietly known to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), to the executive, encouraging the CEP to take some additional steps to improve the processes that were in place and working with the government to get them to urge the police to be a little more proactive in their securing of the voting sites and getting police out to the sites a little bit earlier so they could get to know the terrain, the people involved, etc. I think what we saw on October 25, is a marked improvement over what took place in August. Certainly from a security point of view, people seemed to have been able to largely vote without being harassed or impeded. I think it seems that some of the suggestions we made to the CEP were taken; some of them, apparently not. But overall our assessment is that things went significantly better. Those elections were the first round of presidential elections and the second round of most of the legislative races. Now we are in the process of watching results. The preliminary results, at least of the presidential race, were announced on Thursday [November 5], the week before last. The results were of Jovenel Moïse coming in first place with around 32-33% of the vote, and Jude Célestin coming in second place with 25%. Moïse Jean Charles came in third place with about 12%. Dr. Maryse Narcisse came in fourth with 7%. We need to recall there were 54 presidential candidates going forward, an unprecedented number, which added a level of complexity to the entire process. I think it was good to see in terms of people’s enthusiasm for participating in the democratic process. But I think it did have the result of making it a little more difficult in terms of logistics and support for the CEP and others.

QUESTION FROM MODERATOR DR. CASSANDRA THERAMENE: What is the U.S. and State Department position regarding the recent presidential election? The silence is deafening.

HSC MERTEN: I don’t think we have been silent on that. The United States is part of the Core Group in Haiti, and that is the countries of Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, United States of America, the European Union and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States. The Core Group issued a statement, which we participated in drafting. We noted in the statement on November 6, we look forward to the second round of presidential elections on 27 December along with the local elections and the second round of legislative elections in certain cases where the elections were rerun.

In the same statement, the “Core Group” called on all stakeholders to deal with any and all problems, or contestations, as laid out in the Electoral Decree and in a transparent manner. We, the Core Group, deplores the isolated acts of violence and vandalism observed following the announcement of the preliminary results, and the “Core Group” urged the Haitian authorities to apprehend and prosecute people who were in charge of creating vandalism and violence the full extent of the law.

Finally, the “Core Group” also reiterated its call on all actors to continue to participate in the electoral process with responsibility, respect and restraint, as the definitive results of the first round presidential elections and the preliminary results of the legislative and municipal elections are awaited.

I will underscore again what I think I said when I was in Miami last month and had the privilege of participating in a discussion with a group of Haitian professionals there that this is a Haitian-run process. I think it is important for us all to be aware of that and to keep that in mind. This needs to be a process run by Haitians, and I think that that is a very important part of our analysis as we look at this process.

QUESTION: What role will the U.S. play in ensuring a true democratic electoral process in Haiti?

HSC MERTEN: So far, the United States has committed more than $31 million to support the three rounds of the elections cycle.

Through the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), the United States has provided an additional $2.8 million of equipment support to the Haitian National Police (HNP) to provide security around the elections. That support includes portable tower lights, critical vehicle repair parts, things like tires and batteries and so forth. It includes vehicles so that participants setting up the elections can better access the rural parts of Haiti. The United States, through INL, also helped the HNP execute a communications upgrade through new radio equipment to permit police stations around the country to stay in touch with each other.

The United States and international community remain committed, as I said earlier, to democracy and the return to democratic institutions in Haiti. And we have commended President Martelly for prioritizing the organization of elections to get a parliament in place, to get local officials in place, and finally to get a successor for himself in place. We have encouraged all parties, everyone in Haiti, to respect the democratic process.

We stood by, as you know, all democratic actors and the democratic process in Haiti for several decades now. And that has not changed, nor will it. So I think our credentials on supporting democracy over the years and going forward are pretty good.

QUESTION: Please elaborate on the interference of the U.S. Government as it relates to the political process in Haiti. Whether or not there is interference, and if you can address that.

HSC MERTEN: Number one, this goes back to what I said earlier. It is important for us to keep first and foremost in our minds that this is a Haitian-run process and has to be. It is the process that we have supported and not any particular candidate or party. We have all seen the criticism against the international community for involvement in the 2010 elections. Then, as now, I would say that our and the international community’s concern was that the process reflect the will of the Haitian people, as manifested in their votes on election day. We will work with whoever or whatever President comes out at the end of this process. Again, I want to be absolutely clear. We do not have a preference or choice. The United States continues to work closely with the Core Group as a multilateral mechanism as well as with the United Nations Special Representative in Haiti as well as with the Organization of American States going forward.

The electoral process, which was formulated according to Haitian law, we believe, should be the final arbiter of the results. Although the international observation missions provide added accountability to the accuracy of the results, any complaints with that process or with the system – we have been consistent in saying this – need to be taken up through the legal framework that is in place. We have encouraged people since even before the election that if they felt they were treated improperly, if fraud was committed, that there was a disadvantage to them, that they needed to prepare themselves to take that through the legal system, through the legal mechanism for doing that called the contestation tribunal. My understanding for the presidential results is that two candidates have chosen to present some information through that venue.

QUESTION: What is the position of the U.S. and State Department regarding the protests of the people or the Haitian government’s interference with the rights of the people to freely protest the election results. The U.S. Government assisted Martelly when he came short of being elected in the final run off. What has changed?

HSC MERTEN: Our view has always been that people have the right – that right is guaranteed in Haiti, too – should have the right to freely and peacefully express their views.

I think we have been pretty clear in our statements to urge everyone to refrain from violence, to respect the law, and to give the process, as agreed to before the elections, a chance to work.

While we have seen isolated incidents of excessive force by Haitian National Police, so far, the HNP has largely handled these demonstrations professionally and has allowed peaceful protest.

This year, as in 2010, the National Tabulation Center, after reviewing a number of tally sheets that contained evidence of fraud, discounted those results from the final count. We applaud the efforts by the CEP to ensure that the result accurately reflects the will of the Haitian people. Our engagement with the CEP continues. We have urged anyone who has evidence of additional fraud to bring it to the authorities for their review through that contestation process. I’ll reiterate once again, the United States does not have a preferred candidate nor a preferred outcome. We will respect the choices made by the Haitian voters.

QUESTION: The Miami Herald reported that over 120,000 votes (almost 10%) were rejected by the CEP, mostly due to fraud. Accordingly, the election results lack credibility. How can the runoff election produce more credible results?

HSC MERTEN: The National Tabulation Center, after reviewing several tally sheets that contained evidence of fraud, discounted those results from the final count. We think those efforts to ensure that the result accurately reflects the will of the Haitian people was a good step.

Again, we have encouraged and, continue to do, all politicians, whether it is presidential level or at the legislative or even local level, to use this appeals process, or contestation process, by providing any documented proof of election irregularities to the Provisional Electoral Council in a legal and peaceful manner and according to Haitian law.

I want to also note that the United States continues to take note of parties who attempt to frustrate the democratic process, either through electoral fraud or violence.

QUESTION: With over 900,000 mandataires voting out of 1,500,000 million votes, and with the mandataires votes being sold to the highest bidder, does the State Department believe the election results to be credible? Specifically what is our country going to do during the Haiti election?

HSC MERTEN: I talked earlier about that the United States is doing and how we have contributed. I’ll go back to repeating that, since before the election took place, we talked to people about a process. There is a legal process. There are rules of the game that were established that were agree to by the parties beforehand. Part of those rules of the game allow for someone who feels that they have been disadvantaged by fraud or something else to bring proof of that to the contestation period, and we have encouraged people to take advantage of that as to exercise their rights is guaranteed in the Haitian Constitution as well as in the electoral law. International election observers are playing an important role in this process. They have been there since the beginning and, in many cases, they have been the ones who have outlined some of the problems that have been noted in earlier rounds.

From what I understand, the Haitian Constitution allows for only two candidates to go to the runoff elections on December 27.

Yes, at the end of the day, we believe that the announced preliminary results – to us, to the OAS and, frankly, to our partners in the Core Group – are largely credible. And so, we applaud the CEP for identifying results tally sheets where there was fraud that was found. Who knows what the results of the contestation period for those two candidates that went forward. There may be proof that other fraud was committed that may come through in the proof that they provided to the contestation period. I will remind you that in 2010, President Martelly presented a lot of information. He used his rights as allowed in the election law to present proof of fraud committed against him. Again, this is part of the process

QUESTION: How many Haitian party monitors will there be for the runoff?

HSC MERTEN: Under the new procedure established by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), each party will have to pre-register their mandataires (party representatives or party monitors). The number of party monitors depends on the number of party monitors that parties identify in advance, by providing their name, their identification number [CIN] which is similar to our social security number in the United States, and polling center.

The Electoral Decree allows every political party with a candidate the ability to have a party monitor in each polling station (bureau de vote). For December 27, the two presidential candidates will have the possibility of having 13,725 party monitors each for every polling station. In addition, parties that have candidates in the remaining legislative and/or local contests will have the opportunity to have a party monitor in every polling station where they have a candidate. Again, they will be required to pre-register their party monitors.

The requirement to pre-register party monitors will allow the CEP to provide badges that are pre-printed for each individual (with a photograph) and assign each party monitor to a specific voting center.

This is a change that has evolved over the past few months. We think this is a good step by the CEP to increase transparency and, more importantly, accountability for party monitors while assuring that their parties can retain the right to monitor what activities are going on at polling stations so that their candidates are not somehow disadvantaged.

QUESTION: From a U.S. perspective, how many U.S. monitors will we have at the elections?

HSC MERTEN: The U.S. government through USAID is supporting – paying for – a domestic observation mission that is fielding over 1,700 trained observers.

USAID is also funding the Organization of American States (OAS) election observer mission, which has approximately 125 non-Haitian observers.

The U.S. Embassy has, and will continue to field, teams on election day throughout the country. This election cycle, I believe for the first time, we have done this in conjunction with the Embassy of Canada, which has multiplied the number of teams that we can get out, which has helped from our point of view to give us a better view of what is going on.

QUESTION: What will be the role of the Organization of American States and the United Nations?

HSC MERTEN: The UN has been in Haiti since 2004, and they have traditionally played a large role in assisting the Haiti with how elections are conducted. That role has evolved over time. As the numbers of MINUSTAH have gone down, this time we have found them in a position of providing two kinds of support. One is logistical support. That was done by some UN agencies. And, importantly, MINUSTAH has provided troops that continue to be present in Haiti. Their presence in October was meaningful in having a more safe and secure outcome. The logistics that they provide are key in getting electoral material from Port-au-Prince out to the provinces. That is something that they play a key role in. UNDP, which is the UN Development Program, manages what we call the basket fund, which provides the coordinated funding to the CEP for elections. United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) provides logistical support from the departments to the polling centers and back.

The OAS has an electoral observation mission which is fielding 125 observers across the country. They have been key observers in the last several Haitian elections and we are very happy they are there.

QUESTION: This last question is not related to the election process but more so as it relates to the U.S. Embassy or for those who are currently citizens in the United States who have business in Haiti or who are in the process of establishing businesses in Haiti. What can you say about how can U.S. Embassy in Haiti be helpful, especially during this critical time?

HSC MERTEN: I think I say this every time I speak to a group of people outside of Haiti. We really have a lot of hope that investment and the increasing economic opportunity in Haiti, really in my analysis, needs to be key to helping Haiti move forward and to provide a better quality of life for its citizens. We are going to be committed to helping out American investors who want to go to Haiti and do business. When I was in Miami back in October, some of you were lucky enough to meet my colleague from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Christian Loubeau. He works in the Economic and Commercial Section there. His job is to help American investors who are interested in Haiti. We have colleagues in my office. I take it a very personal interest in this. Those of you who have my contact information please do not hesitate to reach out and let us know. We will do what we can to see if we can be helpful. The Economic and Commercial Section of U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince can provide a full range of commercial services to businesses, from things called International Partner Searches, which is for people who have a product that they want to export and are looking for partners or someone who can distribute. Let’s say, if you make crackers and you are looking for someone to distribute, we can hook you up with people like that. They also do Gold Key Services, which are a little bit more elaborate programs that the Commercial Section will put together and introduce prospective investors and people who want to sell in Haiti to key government officials and key partners and other key people they may need to know to make an intelligent decision about exporting to Haiti or investing. The Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy is also on the U.S. Embassy website where you can find helpful information, such as the Investment Climate Guide, published on an annual basis. That may be able to answer many of the questions that potential investors or those on this call have as they start dialing up or contacting people. This is something that is very important. We want to encourage. As I mentioned Saturday [at the National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals Annual Conference], there was someone I met who recently opened an operation north of the Caracol Industrial Park. He is making perfumes, fragrances, and soaps. He is doing very well. He has some thirty people employed. These are thirty to thirty-five people who, before he came down there, were not working, were not doing anything. And now, they have a job. They are taking home a paycheck every week. They are providing for their family, providing money that circulates in the economy. This is very important. He is going to expand. That is something we would, obviously, love to see more of. My understanding is that he did it without any of our help. This is something he engineered on his own. Hats off to him! It is great.

MODERATOR DR. THERAMENE: Thank you, Deputy Assistant Secretary Merten. We want to also thank the participants, Haitian Americans for Progress, and the collaboration with the U.S. Department of State.

HSC MERTEN: Thank you, Cassandra, for moderating. I appreciate this opportunity. It would have been nice to do something more face to face, but I realize that everybody does not have the same type of equipment. And so this seemed to be the best way to do it. Thank you, everybody for your interest. Again, thanks for allowing me to participate in Saturday’s event. It was an honor for me to be there.