Haiti's election deflated hopes of renewal and recovery on Sunday (Miami Herald, NYT, WaPo). Bad voter rolls, missing national identity cards, and alleged ballot stuffing/dumping led most of the presidential candidates to protest the election before it could even be verified. Those candidates have called for peaceful public mobilizations (perhaps emphasizing mobilization) and the government has called for the same (perhaps emphasizing peaceful.)
Understanding what happens next will be a challenge for outsiders. Before trying to read between the lines, it may help to review the lines. Haiti elects its president every five years with an absolute majority, in direct universal suffrage. Failing an absolute majority, the top two candidates stand for a second election (Article 134 of the Haitian Constitution). The Permanent Electoral Council (CEP) oversees elections "in complete independence" (Article 191) and also rules on all electoral disputes (Article 197).
ARTICLE 197: The Permanent Electoral Council shall rule on all disputes arising either in elections or in the enforcement or the violation of the Electoral Law, subject to any legal prosecution undertaken against an offender or offenders before the courts of competent jurisdiction.
Article 197: Le conseil électoral permanent est le contentieux de toutes les contestations soulevées à l’occasion soit des élections, soit de l’application ou de la violation de la loi électorale, sous réserve de toute poursuite légale à entreprendre contre le ou les coupables par-devant les tribunaux compétents.
So far, so boring. Haitians and outsiders are rightly more interested in who prevails and how the people react. But the election dynamics will unfold right in that gap between articles 191 and 197; between the CEP's responsibility to run the election and its exclusive power to rule on election disputes. Two themes to watch for: the independence of the commission and its ability to judge its own work.
An already-restive public would probably pounce on any overt influencing of the CEP. If fraud did occur, the CEP itself would become the next battleground. Assuming the CEP fends off all external manipulation, it still has to contend with its professional self-interest. To be blunt: they alone will judge and rule on the disputes caused by their own botched election. (Americans who find this rule silly should refer to Bush v. Gore.)
It's not clear just how the CEP will manage that. Their Communiqué de presse # 50 seems to accept the inevitability of mass demonstrations, and so calls for order, competent policing, and "serenity". It reads in part:
Le CEP de son côté continue de mettre en branle toutes ses ressources techniques, logistiques et humaines afin de s'assurer du bon déroulement de ces élections.
Roughly, "We're going to continue to do everything we can to ensure the smooth running of these elections." The Washington Post article quotes commission president Gaillot Dorsainvil as saying, "the CEP is comfortable with the vote." In any language, the sentiment smells of posterior-covering evasion, if not denial. While the facts are not all in, it sure doesn't seem like a bon déroulement. Yet the commission has already tipped a favorable judgment. The coming days will show if the CEP persists in that judgment, how others accept that, and what a rejection of that judgment might lead to.