Democracy, stability, and moderation are in the balance not just in Egypt but closer to home in Haiti. On Thursday, Haiti’s electoral board decided that the presidential run-off on March 20 will pit Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady and law professor, against Michel Martelly, known as “Sweet Micky,” a carnival performer and kompa music singer of raunchy chart toppers. Removed from the run-off race was Jude Celestin of the INITE party, who was assigned third place after a technical review of the elections. Celestin’s removal was a blow for outgoing President Rene Preval.
According to press reports, the U.S. “strongly suggested Haiti might lose billions of dollars in aid if it didn’t go along with the recommendation to drop Mr. Celestin.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Haiti on January 30 to press home that point.
The Administration certainly hopes the March 20 run-off will limit political fratricide and overcome the political uncertainty that has gripped post-earthquake Haiti. It seeks to engineer consensus and national unity frayed by the November 2010 elections that were fraught with irregularities, registration problems, and absenteeism. It also hopes that the eventual winner will grasp the tattered threads of government leadership, bolster sagging confidence in the recovery and rebuilding process, and interface effectively with the U.S. and the international community.
Adding to the complexity of the political equation has been the return of former dictator Jean Claude ["Baby Doc"] Duvalier and the probable return of ousted populist firebrand and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Interestingly, the Obama Administration is coming under a heavy barrage of criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus, led by members like Maxine Waters (D–CA). Waters and others on the Hill are aligning with pro-Chavez groups and a cohort of hard left celebrities—including Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, and Harry Belafonte—demanding new elections. Announced Waters:
Once again, the people of Haiti have been denied the opportunity to express their will through free, fair, credible, and transparent elections—which are important factors for effective governance—and once again, it appears that the international community is determining the political fate of Haiti.
That a significant sector of the Obama Administration’s congressional constituency rebels at Secretary Clinton’s diplomacy while demonstrating a long track record of backing Aristide is an invitation to conflict.
For all the Administration’s efforts at influence and pressure, the governance ball is in the people of Haiti’s court. It will not be able to move forward without an elected government its beleaguered people consider legitimate and believe they can trust.
If the March 20 run-off fails to deliver a winner capable of inching Haiti forward, violence and discord are to be expected. With a number of Democratic Members of the U.S. Congress and the pro-Chavez left casting doubts upon the legitimacy of the present electoral process and cheerleading Aristide’s eventual return to Port-au-Prince, the chances of further costly political disruptions cannot be discounted.