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12/05/2006 | Haiti after the Elections: Challenges for Préval’s First 100 Days

International Crisis Group Staff

René Préval’s inauguration on 14 May 2006 opens a crucial window of opportunity for Haiti to move beyond political polarisation, crime and economic decline. The 7 February presidential and parliamentary elections succeeded despite logistical problems, missing tally sheets and the after-the-fact reinterpretation of the electoral law.

 

There was little violence, turnout was high, and the results reflected the general will. The 21 April second round parliamentary elections were at least as calm, and although turnout was lower, the electoral machinery operated more effectively. During his first 100 days in office, the new president needs to form a governing partnership with a multi-party parliament, show Haitians some visible progress with international help and build on a rare climate of optimism in the country.

Préval has a strong base in the parliament, although his Lespwa party has no majority and will need to reach out to form legislative alliances if it is to make good the chance to overcome the divisive factors that have kept Haiti the hemisphere’s poorest country and a perennial candidate for failed state status. The new president also needs to choose a strong prime minister who is both committed to his program and acceptable to a broad range of opinion. Both are essential steps if the paralysis that has afflicted recent parliaments is to be avoided.

The Préval presidency likewise is dependent on strong international support. As president-elect he has travelled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic; to Brazil, Chile and Argentina; to the UN and to Washington; and to Cuba, Venezuela and Canada. He has called for the UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) to remain and has appealed before the Security Council and the Organisation of American States (OAS) for long-term development aid. A ministerial conference in Brasilia on 23 May is an opportunity to spell out his priorities to the international community and will be followed by a donors pledging conference in Port-au-Prince in July. Préval’s call for a 25-year governance and development pact is ambitious but should generate at least a consensus on the long-term nature of the peacebuilding enterprise.

Deep structural challenges still threaten what may be Haiti’s last chance to extricate itself from chaos and despair, and action in the first 100 days is needed to convey to Haitians that a new chapter has been opened in their history.

  • Security. It is essential to preserve the much improved security situation in the capital since the end of January. In large part the improvement stems from a tacit truce declared by some of the main gangs – especially those in Cité Soleil – whose leaders support Préval. The new administration and MINUSTAH should pursue efforts to combine reduced gang violence with rapid implementation of high-profile interventions to benefit the inhabitants of the capital’s worst urban districts. Urgent action is needed to disarm and dismantle urban and rural armed gangs through a re-focused Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program.
  • Policing. To deal with the threats posed by organised criminal elements and drug-traffickers, the Haitian National Police (HNP) need to be reformed, professionalised and strengthened. The government and MINUSTAH must agree on implementation of the Security Council mandate for UN vetting and supervision of the HNP. A first priority will then be to purge it of corrupt officers and break up the police cells with links to criminal elements and political factions. That force, including the coast guard, will have to grow to some 15,000 by the end of Préval’s term.
  • Political cohesion. Urgent measures are needed to help repair a social fabric badly damaged in recent years by political polarisation, deepening antipathies between the mass of the population and the elite, worsening poverty and a generalised sense of hopelessness. These include:

-  quickly meeting some of the high expectations of the Préval supporters but also reaching out to organised middle and upper class and business sectors who voted against him but who in turn have the obligation now to meet him halfway;

-  using the World Bank-sponsored Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan to provide the foundation for the national dialogue that never materialised under the transitional government, one encompassing the substantial participation of the poor, grassroots community groups and women; and

-  discouraging at all costs any early return to Haiti of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which would undermine the new government and instantly reignite political turmoil.

  • Economic renewal. Préval has declared his belief that economic development is heavily dependent on private investment, which requires at least the promise of improved infrastructure and the social and political stability provided by good governance and solid institutions. A first step is to look at ways to resolve the electricity supply crisis in the capital. Education and employment-generation also are key areas for immediate investment, particularly when students in some schools are being expelled because their parents, hit by high prices and economic stagnation, cannot pay for uniforms and school fees.

Préval should press the World Bank, perhaps with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank, to help put in place systems for economic governance that would allow him to make good on his promise to root out corruption in public administration. He also needs to concentrate new policies and programs on improving the lot of Haiti’s poor majority, particularly the traditionally neglected rural poor.

  • Judicial Reform. All structures related to the rule of law need comprehensive reform if there is to be investment in Haiti. A joint international and national judicial panel should be formed to review quickly cases of political prisoners and those being detained without trial. Significant numbers of the 85 to 90 per cent of prisoners who have not yet been tried have been in jail longer than they would have been if given maximum sentences for their alleged crimes. Justice reform is a long-term task but it must start the day the Préval government takes office and have full international support.

International Crisis Group (Organismo Internacional)

 

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