The OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti: Chief of Mission Report to the OAS Permanent Council

July 13, 2000



After many delays, the Republic of Haiti held legislative, municipal and local elections on May 21, 2000. These elections were viewed as vital for the democratic consolidation of the country. Haiti had not been with a working parliament since January 1999 and hundreds of millions of dollars of much needed development assistance had been held up as a consequence. The importance of these elections corresponded in direct proportion to the magnitude of the logistics. More than 29,000 candidates vied for some 7,500 elected posts throughout the country.

The Chief of Mission and his core group of experts arrived on February 23, 2000. By early March, some 22 observers had established an office in Port-au-Prince and five regional offices in Cap-Haitian, Cayes, Gonaives, Hinche and Jeremie. The observers met on a continuous basis with electoral authorities, political party representatives and civil society leaders to assess the developments of the electoral process in its entirety. On Election Day, the OAS observer team was supplemented with short-term observer groups provided by various governments, and it also coordinated its activities with other international observation missions such as CARICOM and the Francophone country delegations. In all, the OAS trained, deployed and received information from more than 200 observers at more than 1,000 polling stations on May 21. One of the biggest challenges to the conduct of these elections was the national registration of voters. The registration of voters began on January 24, 2000 and ended on March 19, 2000. According to the statistics provided by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), 3,959,571 voters registered from a potential voting population of 4,245,384, or 93.27 percent. In a separate report issued on May 5, the OAS Mission concluded that registration had been adequately completed and that those who wished to register were able to do so.

During the pre-electoral period, the Mission also observed other aspects of the electoral process such as candidate registration, administrative preparations, the security situation and freedom of expression and the state of the media. The Mission witnessed many challenges to the administrative preparations due to a lack of communication, transportation and materials. It also noted that candidate registration was successfully completed with some 29,500 candidates registering for an estimated 7,500 positions. The CEP also completed the identification of the 11,238 Bureaux de Vote and recruited poll workers to manage the BVs on Election Day.

Election Day was postponed on at least three separate occasions and these delays had a deleterious effect on the electoral process. Political parties husbanded their resources anticipating another delay and the electoral campaign never began in earnest. Despite the delays and its effects, however, the CEP eventually accomplished the major tasks necessary to successfully conduct the May 21 elections. The day was a great success for the Haitian population, which turned out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments, and to the Haitian National Police, whose capacity had beeen questioned by the political parties, by the Government and by the Press, but who had been able to keep order quietly and effectively.

Election Day proceedings on May 21 represented the high point of the electoral process. An estimated 60 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Very few incidents of violence were reported. The Haitian National Police responded efficiently and professionally to situations that could have deteriorated into violence. Party poll watchers and national observers were present at almost every polling station observed by the OAS and performed their jobs for the most part in an objective manner. While voters had to wait in long lines, especially at the beginning of the day, they were eventually able to cast their ballots free of pressure and intimidation. Most voters were able to find their polling with relative ease.

Shortly after the vote count, however, the election process deteriorated in some localities. Armed groups of men broke into election offices in the departments of the Centre and the North and burned ballot boxes. The receipt of the tally sheets and other electoral materials was extremely disorganized, particularly in Port-au-Prince, Delmas, and Cap Haitian. Exhausted polling officials arrived in overcrowded electoral offices and threw their materials on the floor. The following day's newspapers showed ballots and official tally sheets strewn on the street. Even though most of the tally sheets were recovered and this situation did not appear to be generalized, confidence in the electoral process ebbed slightly as a result.

The OAS Mission also witnessed the arrest and detention of several opposition candidates. The Mission visited several of the detainees in prison to assess the reasons for their arrests. While these opposition figures were eventually released, the Mission believes that these summary arrests further chipped away at the confidence in the electoral process which had been achieved on May 21. Violence which appeared electorally-related was noted both before and after Election Day. During the pre-electoral process, the OAS recorded 70 acts of violence that led to seven deaths of political party candidates and activists. After Election Day, the OAS Mission confirmed at least three election-related deaths.

The Mission also observed a state of disorganization and a lack of transparency in the compilation of results and delays in posting these results in many of the communes. Days and even weeks passed and many of the Communal Offices still had not completed collecting the results. On many occasions, results were never posted at the communal level. Some high-ranking electoral officials left their posts and never returned to their duties.

The OAS Mission visited every Communal Electoral Office and every Departmental Office and has managed to collect most of the results at these levels. The Mission has compared the results from the different electoral levels and discovered that there are some discrepancies that have altered the outcome in some races, both in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Mission identified at least several senators and perhaps as many as three deputies who should have participated in a second round election, but were declared winners in the first round. Moreover, the Mission has identified candidates for the Chamber of Deputies who had been excluded from a second round election. The Mission' s final report will devote a chapter to the analysis of the results, focusing on the calculation of the senate races, the transmission of results and the treatment of challenges by political parties.

To note one important example, in the Department of the Northwest, the first-place independent candidate, Luc Fleurinord, lost 1,000 votes and the second-place candidate gained 16,000 votes, between results compiled at the BED level and those announced by the CEP, thus changing the order in which the senatorial candidates won. In these elections, the first place candidate will serve a 6-year term while the second place candidate will serve 4 years. Mr. Fleurinord lodged a formal complaint to the CEP, but the Mission is unaware of any action taken.

Another concern of the Mission is the lack of transparency and impartiality in the treatment of challenges put forth by the political parties. For example, in the South Department, it appeared that the BED treated cases that favored one political party. In general, the OAS Mission was not able to obtain the information related to the number of challenges, the nature of their investigations or the final decisions and their impact on the results. Moreover, there did not appear to be a systematic treatment of challenges on the departmental level.

The CEP called for elections to be reheld in three separate communes on July 2, 2000. In two of these communes, Bahon and Dame-Marie, there did not appear to be a compelling reason to redo the elections. Tally sheets, once believed to be lost, were recovered. The compilation of results was conducted in public and validated by party poll watchers. The original results in these two communes demonstrated opposition parties winning. During the partial election in Bahon, OAS observers witnessed a serious disregard for electoral norms, including polling stations without voter registers, voters without proper identification and results that appeared to have been falsified.

With respect to the municipal and local elections, the Mission's overall conclusion is that a series of irregularities appear to have affected an unspecified number of local elections in the country. However, since one political party won most of the elections by a substantial margin, it is probably unlikely that the majority of the final outcomes in local elections have been affected.

In the case of legislative elections, the Mission considers that a number of irregularities did compromise the credibility of these elections, particularly with respect to the senatorial race. As noted in this report, the posting of results at the communal and departmental levels was sporadic and lacked transparency. OAS observers who were able to obtain results on these levels noted discrepancies affecting the results in both the senate and the chamber of deputies. Challenges presented by the political parties were not treated in a systematic, professional or transparent manner.

The most grave irregularity observed by the OAS Mission was the calculation of percentages of votes obtained by the senate candidates. The Constitution and the electoral law of Haiti clearly stipulate that a senatorial candidate must receive an absolute majority of the valid votes cast. If not, the candidate must participate in a second round election.

In late May, the Director of Operations of the Provisional Electoral Council issued preliminary results in which the absolute majority was based on a limited number of candidates (usually the first four candidates with the most votes), instead of the total number of valid votes. By these calculations, 17 senatorial races were decided in the first round, of which 16 winners were from the Lavalas Party. If the calculations for an absolute majority were based on the total number of valid votes cast, 10 senatorial races would have had to go to a second round. On June 2, the Mission informed the members of the CEP of this error. The Chief of Mission and his core group also met with the members of the CEP to explain the error and offer its assistance in rectifying it. Various sectors of Haitian civil society, the National Observers and almost all of the opposition parties supported the strict application of the electoral law in the calculation of an absolute majority in the senate races and called on the CEP to change its methodology accordingly.

The controversy concerning the calculation of results had ramifications within the CEP itself. Two of the three opposition-appointed members were asked to resign by their party and did so. The CEP President left his post and the country rather than validating the Senate calculations, according to his public statement.

Since June 2, the Mission had treated the CEP calculation as a simple human error. The refusal of the CEP to modify the calculations, however, eventually led the Mission to conclude that the highest electoral authority of the country violated its own Constitution and electoral law. By excluding some 1.2 million votes for 101 senatorial candidates who were not in the top four, the CEP precluded the possibility of an election which allowed all participants the same consideration.

Given the failure of the CEP to conduct the second round elections for the Senate with the proper list of candidates based on Haitian electoral law, the OAS Mission was compelled to consider the very basis of the July 9th elections as fundamentally flawed. Numerous efforts to resolve this electoral crisis were attempted, by various sectors within Haitian society as well as by important regional entities such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). However, since several days before the election date no acceptable solution to the crisis had been found, the OAS Mission regretfully informed on July 7th of the suspension of all its observation activity for the second round. It is the profound wish of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission to Haiti that a solution to the calculation of senatorial results in the first round of elections be achieved, in order that the will of the Haitian people as reflected during the May 21 elections be fully expressed, and so that the significant achievements of that day not be lost. In a letter dated June 20, the OAS Mission had offered its good offices to the acting president of the Provisional Electoral Council to review the calculation of the senate and deputy races and address any other issues that were of interest to the CEP.

The observations made by the OAS Mission in Haiti are meant to be constructive and contribute to building an electoral process in which all Haitians can have confidence. This is a critical step for the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law in Haiti. Through the coordinated efforts of the CEP, the Government, the political parties and civil society, the Mission is convinced that Haiti can yet achieve these goals.