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Haitian voters went to the polls Sunday for island’s first post-earthquake election, but twelve of the eighteen presidential candidates were crying foul even before polls closed. We get an election update, including widespread reports of ballot stuffing and problems with voter registration.
- Manolia Charlotin Editor & Business Manager, Boston Haitian Reporter; Co-Founder, Haiti 2015
- Carel Pedre Haitian Radio and TV Host
- Johanna Mendelson-Forman Senior Associate, Americas Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Joseph Guyler Delva Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The "Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, making the diplomatic sausage, Wikileaks releases thousands of secret American diplomatic communicates. We examine the fallout. But first, Haiti's contested election.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt was supposed to be a step towards political stability. This Sunday, millions of Haitians took to the polls in the country's first election since the earthquake. But even before the voting was finished, 12 of the 18 candidates for president were calling for the results to be vacated. Today, that number is up to 14 or 15. As polls closed, there were widespread reports of ballot stuffing and voter confusion as thousands took to the streets to protest. We still don't know who won the election yesterday, but Haiti finds itself in the midst of a new political crisis.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio to have this conversation is Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior associate in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Johanna, good to see you again.
MS. JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMANHi, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios at WBUR in Boston is Manolia Charlotin, editor of the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015. Manolia, thank you for joining us again.
MS. MANOLIA CHARLOTINThank you, Kojo. Good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, by telephone is Carel Pedre. He is a Haitian radio and TV host. Carel, thank you for joining us.
MR. CAREL PEDREMy pleasure. Thanks to be here.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Port-au-Prince is Joseph Guyler Delva. Guy Delva is a Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC. Guy, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOSEPH GUYLER DELVAThank you for having me.
NNAMDIOver the last year, Haiti has been beset by a natural disaster, a housing crisis and a public health crisis. What happens when two-thirds of the field and the election calls for the results to be cancelled before they're even released? Yesterday, 12 of 18 major candidates called for the results of the polling to be vacated before the polls even closed today. That number, as we said, is up to 14 or 15. We have been hearing reports about protests across Port-au-Prince, most of them peaceful, but some escalating into violence. Guy, can you tell us what is happening right now?
DELVAYesterday, after the election, we've seen several demonstrations, thousands of people in the streets, not only in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but in other regions in the south, in the north, in the Autibinas area. So it was widespread movement and mostly from supporters of Michele Martelly, the artist -- the singer Michele Martelly who is one of the leading candidates. Then they were claiming that there has been fraud and that the government, the ruling party or the candidates from the ruling party, they were trying to steal their votes. There were not many -- I mean, much violence, but in some places, particularly during the election, supporters of one of the candidates who were angry, they attacked polling stations and destroyed voting materials because they were angry. Many people were angry that they could not find their names on the voting lists, you know. A lot of problems, irregularities that we seen yesterday that caused a lot of people to get mad.
NNAMDIAllow me to address my next question to Carel Pedre. Carel, you are not a political reporter, you're a popular radio host and TV personality. It is my understanding that you had all of the major candidates on your show, but you decided on Saturday to, I guess, endorse one of the candidates. Tell us who you endorsed and what the consequences have been for you?
PEDREI clearly endorsed Michele Martelly on Saturday and I've been Tweeting and sending several messages to support him. But I was also Tweeting against what we call the system, most likely the government and the government for this particular platform, NET. But the consequences is that I have a lot of friends who are close to the government and to Street Philistines camp calling me yesterday to tell me to take it slow, to find a way to stop Tweeting against the government because somehow my name was mentioned at the highest level and this camp. And I received, like, two calls from people asking me to slow down as well.
PEDRESo what I'm doing right now, I'm zeroing in on my (unintelligible) and my family and I'm just hiding right now. I didn't go to work today and I'm not even sleep in my house last night. That's the consequences. But what happened is -- like, I support Michele Martelly and because I really need some kind of change in my country because I love my country. I'm 30 and I think my daughter will (unintelligible) future.
NNAMDIMy next question is for Manolia Charlotin. Manolia, you are watching the results from a thousand miles away, but in a very real sense this is a local news story from your perspective. There's a very big Haitian population in Boston. What are you hearing? And what is your concern?
CHARLOTINWell I think many of the Diaspora and like the Haitian voters themselves, in Haiti on the island are very disenfranchised by what happened yesterday and what will continue as a result of it. They're obviously very curious. They want to know the safety situation in Haiti. How safe is it for their families? They want to know in terms of what does it mean for them to be able to have communications with their families. The natural concerns that they would have in a time of great struggle in Haiti.
CHARLOTINYou know, yesterday was, you know, and today and the next couple of weeks will continue to be many different demonstrations and some of them are violent. And, of course, the Diaspora, their concerns will always be the safety of their family, but, in general, their hopes, the hopes for Diaspora for Haiti to have a sense of political stability is very clear. You know, many of the folks who have e-mailed me or sent me Facebook or Twitter messages from here from Boston had a sense of hope going into the election.
CHARLOTINThat someone would come out as the front runner and that there would be some sort of level of peace. I think the results are contrary and are very worrying for the future of the country in terms of the diasporas' view point.
NNAMDIJohanna Mendelson-Forman you have been calling around to the State Department and the United Nations and other international agencies. How can you tell so far is the international community reacting?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, obviously, I think, their reaction is guarded. They put a lot of weight on this election as a transitional event to move Haiti forward and clearly there was a lot of expectation, in spite of the problems that everybody has described, that this would be a competitive election. I think that they're guarded in their response. Clearly, they don't have all the facts and none of us have all the facts, but that 14 of 18 candidates have already alleged that there were improprieties going on and that things were in trouble as early as noon of yesterday will make them more guarded.
MENDELSON-FORMANI think the challenge going forward for the governments that support Haiti, not to mention the poor Haitian people who are the victims of all of this, is trying to find a solution that will allow a weak, but a able group of people to help move the country in a way which provides them with a responsible government. And I think that's what all Haitians want. And I think that's what the international donor community wants since so much of the donations given for the earthquake ride on the success of this event.
NNAMDIIs it too early to sit here or sit in Port-au-Prince, for that matter, and try to predict what will come out of what we have seen during the course of the past 24 hours? Johanna?
MENDELSON-FORMANI think, you know, there are several options that I already heard last night and that is there was a scheduled runoff for January 16, which would have probably taken place in – even if this has been a fairly successful election because the Haitian Constitution requires a majority. So there would be an option of redoing some of the elections in some areas were the balloting was flawed. There could be some legal arrangements made to have candidates run again, but clearly at this point it's very early in the game without all the facts to tell.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What do you think? Can Haiti have a legitimate election if 14 of 18 presidential candidates allege fraud? 800-433-8850. You can also send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's talk about the candidates for a second. Guy Delva there are about five front runner candidates. There is Mirlande Manigat, the 70-year old whose husband was briefly president. There's Jude Celestine, who is widely understood to be supported by the president of Haiti, Mr. Preval. There is Michele Sweet Mickey Martelly, who you eventually endorsed on Saturday. There's Charles -- I'm sorry, who Carel endorsed on Saturday. There's Charles Henry Baker and there's Jean Henry St. An.
NNAMDIBut, Guy, my question to you is that most of the candidates who are calling for the election to be put aside seem to believe that the president of Haiti and the government of Haiti favor Jude Celestine. Is that, in fact, true? And if so, what is the nature of the relationship between President Preval and Jude Celestine?
DELVAYes, Jude Celestine is the candidate of the ruling party and he was chosen -- actually chosen by President Preval and he's a real close highlight to President Preval. He was also picked as for many years in charge of the largest construction company run by the government, so he's pretty close to Mr. Preval. But what I would like to say today is that the streets of Port-au-Prince and the capital and also around the country are calm.
DELVAThe streets are calm. There's no demonstration right now. And Michele Martelly has called this morning – is calling the population to remain calm, not to involve demonstrations for right now. He mentioned because he still believes that something can be done. That they could count the votes and the votes probably -- there would be a runoff.
DELVASo there is a different position this morning from Michele Martelly. I don't know for the other candidates what they will say later, but today Michele Martelly no longer asks for the cancellation of the election. No longer. That was yesterday, but today he is asking, demanding that the voice of the population be heard. That he said the population voted for change. So, since the electoral council said yesterday that the elections went well -- I mean, even though there were problems in 66 polling centers, 66 out of 1,500, so they're saying that's three-fourths, 3.5 percent of the total of polling centers.
DELVASo the 66 polling centers were cancelled and that is not a sufficient reason for electoral council to cancel the whole elections. So that's why they're presenting an argument to say that there's a reason why they should postpone or cancel the election. They should postpone or cancel it. (unintelligible) also that the candidates, I don't know for all of them, but at least for Michel Martelly, we are considering the results and (unintelligible) leading. I don't who it might go to a runoff, but it seems that his (unintelligible) so it's (unintelligible). Also, he made a statement asking the electoral council to count all the votes and also to get people with some neutrality to get involved, to make sure that all the votes are counted and to go to a runoff or a possible runoff. That's the tune right now.
NNAMDICarel Pedre, we are hearing Gee Delva say that Michel Martelly has changed his mind about vacating the election. As we mentioned at the beginning of the show, there are about 18 candidates, some 14 of them have alleged fraud. If that is in fact changing, Carel Pedre, why do you think it is changing? Why is Michel Martelly not calling for the election to be vacated? What has happened between yesterday and today that may have caused him to change his mind?
PEDRENot only is Michel Martelly going to be changing his mind, the thing is that I was at the Caribbean -- I was tweeting about life in the -- and I did report, I did broadcast the press conference live also. But what’s happening is that way before the press conference, Mirlande Manigat was all over the radio calling for cancellation. And what happened, when Mirlande joined the other candidates that decide to call to cancellation because they think that there’s too much fraud and everything. But, Michel, what happened between the press conference and Michel’s last press conference this morning is that Michel had a march with thousands of people in the streets saying that (unintelligible) the president.
PEDREAnd he is clearly the one leading in the vote. And the partial reports from (unintelligible) all over the country puts him in fourth in the votes. So that might put him in a better position to negotiate to maybe take the lead and ask the international community, the government, the electoral council to take enough of the people’s voice and for people's votes to be count. So that -- basically, that might change between. But what I'm understanding right now, I can confirm that before the 13 candidates (unintelligible) a lot of them were not really on the same page about calling to the cancellation of the election.
PEDREFor example, I can say that Yvon Neptune, who didn't sign the statement (unintelligible) but he did it kind of a statement because he believe it was a very emotional decision. And I can also say that Michel Martelly from the (word?) didn't really want the cancellation of the election.
NNAMDIWe have got to take a short break. What we have clearly seen, at this point, is that if one can clearly see confusion, there is clearly some confusion in Haiti right now over this election. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll see what we can do to try to figure out what is likely to happen next. But you can still call us, 800-433-8850. Do you think Haiti can have a legitimate election result at this point? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIElections were held in Haiti yesterday despite a cholera epidemic. They were looking at 18 candidates running for president. They were also selecting 10 senators and 99 deputies. Joining us now for an update in our Washington studio is Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior associate in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Joining us from studios of WBUR in Boston is Manolia Charlotin, editor of the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015. Joining us by telephone from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is Joseph Guyler Delva. Guy Delva is Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC and Carel Pedre is a Haitian radio and TV host. They both join us by telephone from Port-au-Prince.
NNAMDIBut I'd like to come back to Washington for just one second, Johanna Mendelson, because there -- one wonders from the beginning that this was not the optimal setting for a free and fair election. But when is everything ever optimal in Haiti given that on the one hand, some people wanted to wait to see if the cholera outbreak could be kept more under control, on the other hand you'd have the pressure to put a government in place that could start distributing the billions of dollars that are waiting there to help the people of Haiti.
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I think the challenge for this election -- and there's never a right time, you're correct, when you have a disaster is that there was such pent up feeling that there needed to be a change. There was great disappointment in the Preval government in its slowness to respond to the crisis that people put a lot of expectation in this process. And in fairness, there was competition. You had 18 or maybe 19 candidates running. You had the legislature that had expired and you also had a third of the senators that needed to be elected, and that had been postponed because the February elections of 2010 were cancelled.
MENDELSON-FORMANSo people put a lot of weight in moving forward and this was seen as a transitional event. No one thought it would be perfect, but there was an expectation that they would present a new slate of leaders that the Haitian people could look to. So I think color aside, which is certainly something that affected perhaps the turn-out was not the major factor in the turn-out. There were irregularities in the way cards were distributed despite good efforts made to get people cards, lots of disinformation and I think this was just the ultimate match into the kerosene can.
NNAMDIManolia Charlotin, in Port-au-Prince, it's our understanding there's a widespread perception that the U.S. is picking sides since the U.S. had been supporters of the current president, Rene Preval, and he is set to favor the candidate or known to favor the candidate Jude Celestin. But you, Manolia, have said that you are outraged by the problems at the polls, but outraged as an American not as a Haitian-American. What do you mean by that?
CHARLOTINWell, the United States had pledged about 14 million out of the 30 million needed to help run these elections in Haiti. Those are my tax dollars as a U.S. citizen. And in addition to that, there's another 1.5 million that's already been released for aid and of course numerous other money spent since the earthquake that I don't think have been spent adequately because, at the end of the day, the Haitian people are not at the center of receiving these monies. The Haitian Civil Society, the Haitian-led community based groups that actually have relationships with communities across Haiti, the ones who can actually provide services and help build sustainable solutions like building water purification systems from the onset of the relief effort, I mean, basic things like that had our money been invested much more wisely, I think we would have seen a better return, even when it comes to cholera.
CHARLOTINNow this election, human rights groups and advocates had been fiercely advocating that these elections were fraudulent from the beginning or were wrought to be fraudulent from the beginning given the lack of capacity that the government had to even put this on. So then for us to go invest our dollars in something that we already knew was a very difficult undertaking and could be fraudulent, to me, is not a smart move on our part as a nation. As a U.S. citizen, I didn't feel like my government really enacted in the best interest of not only representing the American citizen here, but also the Haitian people in the aid that they gave.
NNAMDIGuy Delva, could you tell us a little bit about the sentiment in Haiti and in Port-au-Prince in particular about the possibility of postponing these elections? Were the Haitian people, in your view, crying out for elections and elections now? That was for you, Guy Delva.
DELVAOh, I didn't hear.
NNAMDIWhat was the sentiment in Haiti about holding these elections now?
DELVAAbout holding these elections now?
DELVAYes, say it again, I'm sorry.
NNAMDIWas there widespread sentiment in Haiti for postponing these elections?
DELVAOh, okay. I mean, we would say that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the part of many people who -- and also frustration, a lot of frustration, a lot of people went to vote who cannot find the polling stations and they said that their rights have been denied. But at the same time, as we continue to hear people as the situation is developing -- and people are getting to understand that organizing the elections, you need money for that. And the government doesn't have money and the international community has (word?) about $28 million to organize this election. And we're not sure they're going to continue to give money to Haiti to organize this election.
DELVAAnd also, if (unintelligible) some of the candidates from the opposition could be in the runoff, there's a lot of chance that these candidates will participate and that's what we are seeing now with Martelly. And the government, the electoral council and the international community will support that, you know, the process to continue to move on and that they won't waste the money and also all the efforts that are being made before. So I think we are going to a runoff. We've -- there'll be probably some protest. Some people will continue to be angry, to be mad, but I think they will go on with the process and we'll have a runoff. We'll have the results of the election sometime, you know, in the coming days.
NNAMDIGuy Delva, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDICarel Pedre, thank you so much for joining us.
PEDREThank you so much.
NNAMDIGuy Delva is a Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC. Carel Pedre is a Haitian radio and TV host. Let me go to the telephones here and talk with Barry in Redding, Pa. Barry, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARRYThank you. Thank you, Kojo. I just -- I listen to your specials on a regular basis and I kind of follow the Haitian dilemmas here over the last several months and so. My question, I guess, goes out to the listening public. You know, the international community as well as the U.S. government is fully aware of all the issues that have occurred in Haiti even before the hurricane, even before their government was just smack to the ground with the hurricane. We already know that there were a lot of issues with the legitimacy of their government. If the international community as well as the United States put all this money for an election, why or where was the international community as well as the U.S. government in helping administer the distribution of all those funds to help this election?
NNAMDIManolia Charlotin, I know that you have to leave very shortly, you might want to give a brief response before I bring Johanna Mendelson-Forman back.
CHARLOTINVery briefly, you know, in terms of basic things, you have to understand this, after the earthquake, basic government structures were completely obliterated. So any international aid would have to do the basic things like building voter registration lists, producing national ID cards, helping re-establish mobile polling locations to vote. So there's a lot of basic infrastructure that the moneys went into. That's the first thing you have to understand in terms of where our U.S. dollars went. The second thing is, at the end of the day, the investment, the value proposition for the investment in the election was for us to try to help build political stability in Haiti.
CHARLOTINAnd prior to the earthquake, there had been quite a bit of progress in Haiti that had been reported as much as it should have been in U.S. media. But there was a lot of real progress, hence the reason why Bill Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, you know, was so active in helping bring investment in Haiti because there was -- Haiti was fruitful or was ripe to receive that kind of investment. So that's probably why -- that is the reason why our government decided, well, they're going to invest in political stability by helping with moneys toward this election.
NNAMDIAnd I know that you have to go. Manolia Charlotin, thank you so much.
CHARLOTINThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIManolia's editor of the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015. Johanna Mendelson-Forman, even if the international community wanted to butt out of these elections, the fact remains the politician who wins these polls will control or at least heavily influence how a significant portion of the billions of dollars will be spent. And that is the urgency here, is it not?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, governments that have donated, individuals who've donated, want a responsible and legitimate government in Haiti because, at the end of the day, it's the Haitians' responsibility in the long run to provide for their people. And that's what everybody hopes for. And I think the Haitian tradition of winner takes all, which is the way governments have worked in the past is something that people need to consider now as you have some very good and viable candidates that have possibly gotten a plurality.
MENDELSON-FORMANAnd in the runoff, no matter who is ultimately successful, the goal will be to ensure that you don't have this winner take all mentality overcome what is an important need to build coalitions in a country that's been so divided politically, but also divided in its soul by the very tragedies that have overtaken it in the last year.
NNAMDIJohanna Mendelson-Forman, a senior associate in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you so much for joining us.
MENDELSON-FORMANYou're welcome, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll look at another breaking news story, the WikiLeaks website has now leaked 250,000 confidential State Department documents. We'll talk about the fallout. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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