This is Part III of an Elections series from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).
Haiti Election Primer, Part 3: The Parliament
Read Part 1: Timeline of Key Events, here.
Read Part 2: Presidential Candidates and Their Parties, here.
Often lost in the discussion of Haiti’s presidential race is the fact that many legislative seats are up for grabs as well, including more than half of the Senate. Currently, the parliament is pretty evenly split between political factions but with such a high number of seats left to be decided the balance of power could shift dramatically this weekend. Control of the legislative body is especially important in Haiti’s political system, where it is parliament that approves the new prime minister and government program.
The presidential election was scheduled to coincide with the expiration of one-third of the Senate. Ten Senators had been elected to six-year terms in 2010, so ten first-round races for senate seats will be conducted on November 20. Six second-round Senate races and two dozen second-round races for Deputy will be held as well. The second-round races are the continuation of last year’s fraud- and violence-plagued elections.
For the ten first-round senate elections (one in each department), 149 candidates have registered, coming from 43 different political parties. Interestingly, it is Fanmi Lavalas and Pitit Dessalines who have registered the most candidates of the four major presidential parties with 10 and 9 respectively. With candidates competing in all ten departments, it could bolster rural votes at the presidential level. PHTK and LAPEH, on the other hand, have registered 7 and 6 candidates respectively.
For the second-round senate races still to be competed, parties allied with PHTK make up the majority of candidates. Due to high levels of fraud and violence in the August 9, 2015 legislative election, first-round reruns were conducted for these races in 3 departments (Center, Grand Anse and Nord) last October. Nine of the 12 Senatorial candidates participating in this Sunday’s second round are from PHTK, Bouclier and Consortium (all allies) while no other party has more than one candidate. With two senators being elected from each of these races, PHTK and its allies are guaranteed at least one additional seat in each department.
At the deputy level, there are 25 second-round races that will be completed on Sunday. Again, it is PHTK and allied parties that make up the largest number of candidates, accounting for 40 percent overall, putting them in a good position to pick up seats in the lower chamber. The number of races, broken down by department is as follows: West (6), North (6), Artibonite (4), Center (2), Grand’Anse (2), South-East (2), South (2) and North-West (1).
A positive showing for PHTK and its associates could cement their control of parliament. The leadership of the Chamber of Deputies is already allied with PHTK, as is a substantial minority bloc in the Senate. In September, 48 of the 93 deputies signed a letter endorsing PHTK’s Jovenel Moise for president and offered about $30,000 in campaign funding. Senator Youri Latortue (who a former US ambassador described as the “poster boy” for corruption in Haiti) has been campaigning in the Artibonite with Moise.
In the event of a Jovenel Moïse victory, the incoming president would enjoy a blank check from a PHTK-dominated parliament; otherwise, PHTK’s strong position could be a source of gridlock between the parliamentary and the executive branches of government. One caveat is that political allegiances in Haiti are notoriously fickle. While candidates may run under one political banner, once elected, it is entirely possible for them to stake out a very different position. Already in the campaign, parliamentary candidates have endorsed presidential candidates from outside their own party. A new law on the formation of political parties, passed during the Martelly administration, allowed new parties to form with as few as 20 signatures, leading to many new, small parties registering.
No matter the outcome of November 20, the legacy of last year’s elections will be cemented with the new parliament. Serious questions have been raised about the legitimacy of current members of parliament, some of whom were elected only through controversial electoral court decisions or in the fraud and violence-plagued 2015 votes. The commission investigating electoral fraud recommended reviewing many of these decisions, but the CEP has made little headway since then. The commission allowed the parliamentary results of the October 25, 2015 vote to stand, even though it called for the presidential results to be discarded due to the level of fraud and irregularities. Parliament has been barely functional since new members took their seats last January.
The parliamentary elections could also lead to the swearing in of numerous candidates that have been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Before last year’s legislative race, rules were relaxed that allowed candidates to register without proving a clean criminal record. The most notable registrant was Guy Philippe, a former police and paramilitary commander who has been accused of gross human rights violations and who is a DEA most-wanted fugitive. He was an active participant in the 2004 coup against Aristide. Philippe is running for a senate seat in the Grand‘Anse department, where hurricane Matthew’s impact was greatest. Philippe has appeared on the campaign trail with PHTK’s Jovenel Moise and his political movement Consortium entered into a formal alliance with PHTK earlier this year.