In April, the United Nations warned that if Haiti did not hold parliamentary elections this year, the entire country would be set on a dangerous path towards political chaos.
Sadly, the kind of upheaval that political strife brings is nothing new to Haiti. The last coup, backed by the United States and France, was only a decade ago and is still fresh in the minds of the Haitian people. Riots, protests and violence erupted in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, as democratically elected Jean Bertrand-Aristide was whisked away on an airplane to live in exile in South Africa.
Today, as Haiti struggles to get its economy moving after decades of mismanagement, failed interventions, deadly hurricanes in 2008, a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 and a subsequent cholera outbreak, the political landscape looks as bleak as ever.
The United States has been calling on President Michel Martelly to hold fair and free elections, now three years overdue. The El Rancho Accord — talks between Martelly and the opposition, brokered by the Catholic church — stated that the first round of elections would be held on October 26, 2014. But the two sides have been at odds for years over the composition of the electoral council, placing leaders at a gridlock and leaving the political future of the country unknown.
Last week, two major stories came out of Haiti. Three hundred and twenty-nine prisoners escaped from the country’s main prison after gunmen attacked it in an attempt to free an inmate held on kidnapping charges. Around the same time, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who returned to Haiti in 2011, was served a warrant for his arrest.
Amidst the frenzy of searching for the prisoners and U.N. clashes with Aristide supporters, many may not have noticed the announcement from the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP): elections will not be held on October 26. This announcement has brought the Haiti government perilously close to the edge.
The initial warning from the United Nations stated that not holding elections early enough could lead to a dissolution of parliament in January 2015, leaving Martelly to rule by decree. For a country with a long and troubled history of dictators and sham presidents, the prospect of having a president rule by decree is unnerving at best and horrifying at worst.
Compounding the issue is the possible problem with aid. Donors floated the idea of cutting off desperately-needed aid if Martelly is left to rule by decree in 2015.
So, what needs to happen? There’s a small chance that the first round of elections could be held in December so it’s vital that the two opposing sides come to an agreement. President Martelly would benefit by taking into account the complaints of the opposition party, which include claims of exclusivity of the provisional council and favoritism from the Martelly regime.
Ensuring that their voices are heard will lead to productive and peaceful talks that will hopefully transform into a speedy resolution. Without a solution, Haiti’s already fragile democracy will fall apart leading to another round of political unrest that the Haitian people simply cannot stomach.