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Under the Microscope: Haiti's Tumultuous Political Landscape

Shifting History - Same Old Story

Five years on from the devastating earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince and other major cities in Haiti, the country is still in transition. While once its buildings were the unstable ones, now it is the country’s government which looks likely to collapse.

Haiti’s political history is messy, dictatorial regimes led by Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc ) and later his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) from 1957-1986 suppressed opposition politics for generations, leading to over 130 political parties now vying for office.

During Michel Martelly’s five year tenure as President, legislative elections were postponed amid political gridlock. On August 9th, when elections finally took place, the results did not stand as violence marred the polling stations, forcing officials to hold re-elections in 25 districts last week alongside the presidential one. Ballot stuffing and voter intimidation were just a handful of the accusations thrown at the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

The 25th of October re-election saw over 1,855 office seekers scramble to secure 139 legislative seats. The fight to become President wasn’t any easier as 54 candidates ran, with the result predicted to warrant a runoff in December if a victor wasn’t found.

Even though the people have voted well over a week ago, your guess is as good as ours as to who shall lead the country next.

Real Grassroots?

The flourishing of grassroots mobilization in the run up to this election masks the fact that campaign field operations are built on cheap labor, desperate for work.

David McFadden (AP) reports that Jeanty Masier, a struggling 24-year-old resident of a hillside slum overlooking downtown Port-au-Prince has no particular political preference. He will work for the highest bidder and sadly that is the reality he has been left it. Some people do not have the luxury of volunteering their services for free. "I don't know much about these political people. But they promised to pay me something, so I'm trying to do some work," said Masier.

So how authentic is grassroots in Haiti? Unfortunately, it appears not to be based on real engagement by community volunteers but on cheap labor. In addition the multiplicity of candidates is serving to dilute grassroots messaging as canvassers are collapsing into background noise.

Hysteria around Port-au-Prince is commonplace in the run-up to election as the promise of electioneering work is a welcome relief for most like Jeanty. Even though the sense of grassroots isn’t as clear cut here, the effort isn’t any less. "Whatever the leader tells us to do, we will do. If he tells us to take to the streets and mobilize, we will do that. If he says be calm, we will be calm," tells another young worker.

Delaying The Issue

The elections on Oct 25th were reported to have gone off relatively violence free, but the delay in the results doesn’t bode well for an easier future.

Rumors that the Government backed Presidential candidate Jovenel Moise will obtain a 50% share of the vote are certainly causing unrest among the public. The Miami Herald reported that on Sunday, a Vodou ceremony quickly spiraled into a protest as supporters of other presidential candidates Narcisse, Jean-Charles, and Célestin took to the streets after attacking Moise supporters.The upcoming results have the country on edge and with the announcement expected to come today, the 5th of November. It won’t be before time.

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