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Thursday, December 10, 2020

OPINION:

This coming January, the United States and Haiti will both observe democratic milestones. As the U.S. inaugurates its 46th president, Haiti will be preparing for a constitutional referendum, the outcome of which will shape the future of our country for generations. 

Our democracy, like our politics, is complicated. It’s loud and passionate, with a tumultuous history, hundreds of political parties and complex alliances which can hardly be explained in the 280-characters demanded by social media. As Haiti approaches a new round of elections and a crucial crossroads in our country’s history, soundbites will not suffice. 


These are the facts. In January 2020, for the fifth time since 1987, Parliament failed to pass legislation to organize elections before their terms expired. The Haitian Constitution states that, if a new congress is not voted in by popular elections, presidential governing by executive order will be triggered until new elections can be organized. This is an undesirable scenario for the country, and one I sought to prevent. After a year that saw us negotiate to form a new government of national unity and COVID-19 strike, we are still here, without a legislature. 

Part of the problem lies in Haiti’s flawed Constitution, drafted in 1987. The president is elected by direct popular vote yet plays no role in day-to-day governing of the country. Presidents are consigned to be a passive observer, with the role of head of government and the responsibility of setting policy reserved for the prime minister. This awkward arrangement has resulted in chronic instability, with 25 prime ministers coming and going in the past 33 years. It’s crippled us. 

2021 will be a crucial year for Haiti’s democracy. We will hold overdue elections to seat a new legislature, as well as president to choose the next head of state, taking office in 2022 as well as local elections. And we will propose long delayed updates to Haiti’s constitution, which will be put to a vote the people in a national referendum, with the goal of ending the permanent parliamentary gridlock that has stunted our country’s growth for decades.

There is broad consensus both at home and in the international community that our system urgently needs reform. Recently, President Luis Abinader in neighboring Dominican Republic expressed support for a new constitution for Haiti to help deliver stability to both countries. 

The new constitution will be modernized, it will enable a president who is both head of government and head of state, with a representative Parliament having genuine oversight of the actions of the executive. This is a recipe for action, delivery and accountability — none of which we have had to this point. I will also advocate for Haiti’s diaspora to be represented in our parliament. They continue to lack formal representation in the Haitian political system, while providing a crucial lifeline in the form of remittances. They will no longer be treated by our system as merely a source of income.  

To make this a reality, at the end of October I nominated an independent, inclusive commission to craft the proposed changes to the constitution. I am proud to have invited members of the international community to be part of this process, including the United States, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union and others. 

If approved by Haitian voters, the new constitution can be ratified by March 2021. We can then hold the overdue elections (presidential, legislative and local elections). I will not be a candidate in those elections — I will not be in office to experience, personally, these changes to our system. 

Meanwhile, we are working hard with our international partners to lay the groundwork so that we can conduct elections as soon as it is feasible. Holding elections in Haiti, where few have identity documents and records are often non-existent, is a huge undertaking. Some have suggested conducting two separate elections — first for Parliament and then for president. This, plainly, is impractical and unaffordable. Including second-round runoffs, staggered elections would entail an unprecedented level of expenditures and would only cause further delays. I’ve committed to holding presidential, legislative and local elections no later than August 2021, regardless of the result of the constitutional referendum. These will be followed by runoff elections in October 2021, allowing the Haitian people to install a new president, parliament and local governments under a reformed constitution by February 2022. 

We are on the brink of finally creating the country all Haitians demand and deserve. If politicians will deign to work together, Haiti can break free from decades of political impasse and never-ending crisis. We can solve our most fundamental problem, and elections will no longer be a cycle of crisis and uncertainty, but a reliable cycle of democratic representation and transition. This is the way forward to build back better. 

• Jovenel Moise is the 58th president of the Republic of Haiti.


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