Elections: An Occasion For Prayer For Haiti
Tonight would be a good time to send out a prayer request for Haiti. This evening, we expect the election results – the first election results in over four years - to be announced for all eagerly awaiting parties. These are the first-round legislative election results, tallied from voters’ choices two Sundays ago, August 9.
On that day, Ted and I participated in elections monitoring with a longtime MCC partner and a top Haitian human rights organization, RNDDH. RNDDH trains and mobilizes hundreds of elections monitors to disperse throughout Haiti’s ten departments, keeping a close eye out for irregularities in voting procedures. With RNDDH team leaders and drivers, we each traveled throughout the Port-au-Prince region, checking in with fixed elections observers at dozens of voting centers and reporting information back to RNDDH headquarters.
Our 15-hour day, roving around localities as diverse as Fond-Parisien, to Leogane, to Cite Soleil, felt like a major initiatory experience into the political process in Haiti.
Our fearless team leader, Minerve (on the right) with our driver/experienced observer/co-boss of MCC Haiti, Kurt (left) (Not pictured: our third team member, Nixon Boumba.)
The feedback from Haitian elections monitoring teams after the fact was unequivocal: the elections proceedings were rife with irregularities and instances of corruption. Of 1,500 voting centers in the country, 54 had to be closed on elections day due to violent disturbances. (We visited one such site after it had closed. Ballot boxes were toppled and torn ballots spread everywhere.) And just because a voting center was not closed does not mean there weren’t clear problems with how voting proceeded. Lack of voter confidentiality, intimidation, and general disorder within voting centers was documented at centers all over the country. An estimated 6 individuals lost their lives. Some groups felt that the results from this first round of elections should be disregarded, but that option has since been thrown out the window by Haiti’s electoral council.
The explosion of political parties since Haiti’s last election is one factor that led to so much chaos on election day. Candidates represented over 100 parties, and each party technically had the right to have an elections mandataires in place, to prevent fraud at voting stations. Instead, what we saw, is that squabbles among party mandataires kept many voting centers from opening up on time, and party representatives were very active in campaigning for their candidates within voting center boundaries. From several accounts we heard, the elderly were especially targeted in this way. (At one center in far, southwest Haiti, young men working for political parties offered to drive elderly folks to the voting center if they would vote a certain way.)
Entering a voting center - see all the campaign posters on the gate that aren't supposed to be there.
I don’t share all this detail to discourage people – though I will say the experience was profoundly discouraging, mostly so for our Haitian co-workers and colleagues at RNDDH – but to paint a picture of what this means for further elections planned for this year, and even for how it implicates international donors.
These first-round legislative elections were funded by international donor countries, and the next two rounds planned for this year (October 25 and December 27) will also largely be funded by foreign bodies. It’s a large investment by outsiders, but it cannot be forgotten that this is Haitian business and should be determined primarily by Haitians. When international donors and monitoring groups like Organization of American States - who sent a couple dozen representatives to observe elections - said that things went “well enough,’’ or “as best as could be expected,” it felt like an insult to Haitians, who have seen something better. The general feeling was "why set the standards so low?" when, clearly, these irregularities would cause much more concern and consideration if they occurred in richer countries.
Of course no one wants the elections to have to be re-held. It would jeopardize the plan to hold second-round elections, first-round mayoral, and Presidential elections later this year. But Haitians also want to see a process that makes sense, that doesn't just pass as "good enough."
No results announced this evening could please everyone. Obviously, with 100+ political parties, quite a few people are going to be disappointed either way. Some amount of protests and roadblocks are expected in the streets – it’s just a matter of how many.
Please pray tonight:
--For safety in the streets as results are announced; for no violence or targeting of parties.
--For peace, for minimal disruption of people's lives.
--For results that are somehow beneficial and truly helpful for the country moving forward.
--For good governance, international partnerships, and the participation of the population in further election activities.
--That people would trust the potential good in the process enough to continue voting and working for the good of their country.
A finger being marked to indicate a completed vote.
I personally admit that prayer in light of big, complex processes can feel simple or inadequate at times. But it's a major way to deepen our engagement, to demonstrate love, and affirm Hope, isn't it?
This was re-posted from Katharine & Ted's personal blog, Stories to Tell.
Katharine is from San Diego, California and has served with MCC Haiti since July 2014 as Advocacy Coordinator and Policy Analyst. She studied History and Religious Studies at University of California Davis, then International Development at Eastern University. You can follow her Instagram on life in Haiti @katharineoswald, Haiti advocacy news on Facebook, and her personal blog, Stories to Tell.