Despite being the first country to have independently developed in Latin America – whose anniversary of 212 years of independence was celebrated last January 1st –, his democratic path is unstable, marked by the weakening of minimum standards to maintain its political system. A wicked heritage earned from earlier successive authoritarian governments, as the one of the Duvalier family.
Since the election of the first democratic president in the 90’s the Haitian population lives with almost consecutive coup d’etats. The elected presidents are unable to overcome the influence of traditional rulers, as a consequence their governments are usually undermined by local agreements instead of pushing forward democratic institutions. As a way to overcome this questionable heritage, elections appeared as an alternative to deal with internal conflicts, a strategy that was initially used in Nicaragua and then sprout throughout Latin America, and consequently to Haiti (McCoy et al, 1991).
Nonetheless, the country recently entered into a void of uncertainty after consecutive delays of its electoral process. An increasing wave of violence erupted in the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince and other departments and the elections were postponed, despite the temptative date of 28th January of 2016. Finally, a transitional president was elected in February, with the promise of not staying in power for more than 120 days after he takes office.
This is not the first time Haiti struggles to have a democratic government. Since its foundational elections, in the 90’s, it is commonplace to see the country immersed in political crisis. As so, one of the alternatives found to guarantee that universal democratic patterns, such as the carrying out of elections, were guaranteed, was the invitation to international organizations of election observation to be present during their electoral process.
Nonetheless, elections continued to be a way to struggle the internal conflicts. It is not unusual to see electoral observers that have initially served as human rights in the country, as the first time the Haitian government invited observers, in the 1990 presidential elections, there was a huge international trend defending normative democratic and human rights value. And at that time, elections were considered not only and universal democratic standard, but also a fundamental human right (Chand, 1997).
In the last October elections, observers played a more specialized role, with international organizations assisting the negotiations during the electoral period. As McCoy et al (1991) and Pastor (1998) they assumed a role of mediators, as the principal concern was to guarantee the maintenance of democracy through elections. As so, international observation was more a technique for conflict resolution, rather than an instrument to resolve international conflicts, such as the international recognition of the Haitian regime.
Despite that, nowadays democratic norms became a universal value defended even by countries with not so much intimacy with it. Russia, for example, during the Scotland’s Independence Referendum in 2014, claimed that this process “did not met international standards”. Despite Russian foreign policy interests in the country, the Moscow’s Public Institute of Suffrage watched the voting that took place in Edimburg, and had meetings with Scottish politicians, voters and representatives from non-governmental organizations. At the end, Russian observers claimed that there were irregularities in bulletins signatures and not an adequate transportation of the voting slips (The Guardian, 19/09/2014).
As so, what they were actually criticizing was not the democratic legitimacy of the country, but to be more precisely, they understood that elections did not fulfilled basic international electoral patterns, such as the realization of a “free and fair” election.
The example of Russia is meaningful in two ways: the first one, because it introduces a case in which observers did not agreed between themselves – as the other organizations present did not make any criticisms – and also not with the host country, about the final results publicized. Also, it brings the conditionality of a free and fair election to the centre of the debate about democracy.
Hyde (2011) arguments that even pseudo-democratic leaders tend to invite observers to its polling day as an attempt to meet such free and fair standard. To her the costs of not inviting them would be bigger than the costs of inviting them. But Kelley (2012) disagrees with that saying that not so much democratic leaders only envisage economic gains, as they invite observers to legitimize their governments and then receive financial benefits with this recognizance.
In Haiti’s last elections was also possible to see an unsettled government struggling to maintain democratic standards under the persistent supervision of international observers. There was this two fears the Haitian government had at that time: one, of losing its legitimacy internationally, if the electoral process was not considered free and fair and the other, to weaken the ties with multilateral international donors, for the same reason.
In October those strategies succeeded but in January a different context was stablished. With divergent voices about the final results publicized by the Provisional Electoral Commission (CEP), the electoral crisis was imposed and a wave of violence came across, with the postponing of a new presidential voting.
Finally, to fully explain Haiti’s politics nowadays it is necessary to look the myriad of actors involved in the process in maintaining democratic standards. Elections are only an instrument to achieve it, as well as the international observers’ practices. Therefore, the country’s political future is uncertain and is watched with a close look of the international community on it.
Chand, Vikram K. Democratisation from the outside in: NGO and international efforts to promote open elections. Third World Quarterly, v. 18, n. 3, pp. 543-562, 1997.
Hyde, Susan D. The Pseudo-Democrat’s Dilemma: Why Election Observation Became an International Norm. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011. 248 p.
Kelley, Judith G. Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works, and Why It Often Fails. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. 342 p.
Mccoy, Jennifer; GARBAR, Larry; PASTOR, Robert A. Pollwatching and peacemaking. Journal of Democracy, v. 2, n. 4, 1991, pp. 102-114.
Pastor, Robert A. Mediating elections. Journal of Democracy, v. 9, n. 1, 1998, pp. 154-163.
The Guardian. Russia cries foul over Scottish independence vote. Scottish Independence. 19 September 2014. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/19/russia-calls-foul-scottish-referendum. Access: 03 April 2016.