In the closing weeks before Haiti’s October 25 elections, six candidates made their case to the country’s 5.8 million voters at an October 6 presidential debate. The two-hour forum, part of the Anvan’n Vote (“Before We Vote” in Haitian Creole) initiative of the Public Policy Intervention Group (Groupe d’Intervention en Affaires Publiques, GIAP), was the first of a series of six debates to which all 53 of Haiti’s presidential candidates were invited grouped by alphabetical order.
The debates and elections come at a key juncture in the country’s political life. Haiti struggles with a host of social, economic and democracy challenges. Already grappling with the highest poverty rates in the region, Haiti endured a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, the worst disaster in the hemisphere’s history. As Haitians worked to rebuild, the country also suffered from a political impasse between President Michel Martelly and opposition leaders, which delayed elections for more than three years until an agreement was brokered in January this year.
Herold Jean Francois, president of GIAP, delivered the opening remarks at the first debate and stressed the importance of this “beautiful tradition” and “introducing all the candidates, without exception, to the public.”
As they did for the 2010-2011 elections, GIAP is providing the Haitian public with a platform to hear directly from candidates on the issues and go deeper than the ubiquitous posters and campaign rallies. The October 6 debate featured six contenders, including several of the best known candidates, who shared their views and policies on three main topics: modernizing agriculture, Haiti–Dominican Republic relations and sustainable economic development. The debates were broadcast on eight leading television and radio stations. To send a message of inclusion in a tense election environment, GIAP invited all 53 candidates and expects several dozen to take part, potentially setting a global record for the number of participating presidential candidates. In addition, as the national anthem played, the debate also opened with the candidates joining hands in a show of national unity.
On August 9, Haiti held a first round of legislative elections. The contest offered voters a broader range of choices than before but elections were marred by violence and accusations of fraud.
The October elections will include the presidential contest as well as the legislative runoff and mayoral races. A possible presidential run-off and additional local elections are planned for December 27. The legislative races will be key to electing parliamentarians to restore the functioning of the Parliament, which ceased to operate in January after the terms of office expired for the entire 119-seat Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the 30-seat Senate, leaving the body unable to meet quorum. With Parliament no longer operating, President Martelly has been left to govern by decree.
Additional GIAP-sponsored debates took place on October 8, 12 and 15 and two more forums are planned for October 19 and 22. GIAP is also readying to hold two debates for presidential finalists in December if no candidate wins in the October elections and a runoff election is required. Audio and video of the debates are available on GIAP’s website, and the first debate is also available on YouTube.
The debates are made possible by support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with NDI and Alter Consult. Also NDI and the Jamaica Debates Commission exchanged debate production ideas with GIAP as part of regular peer-to-peer exchanges among members of Debates International, an association of debate sponsoring organizations from more than 20 countries confounded by NDI and the US-based Commission on Presidential Debates.
NDI is organizing a range of other activities for Haiti’s elections with USAID support, facilitating Senate candidate debates, working with youth to reduce violence, providing technical support to women candidates and helping citizen groups organize election observation efforts. NDI has partnered with a coalition of Haitian civic groups, the Citizen Observatory for Institutionalizing Democracy (Observatoire Citoyen pour l’Institutionnalisation de la Démocratie, OCID), to carry out a systematic, nonpartisan national observation, during the period before the election and on election day. Using a scientific election observation technique known as a sample-based observation (SBO), OCID deployed 1,700 trained election observers on August 9 at a random sample of polling places distributed throughout the country. The group assessed the voting and counting process on election day to identify and document problems and propose solutions. OCID sought for the first time in Haiti to get an accurate, reliable and fact-based handle on the actual scope and scale of election day problems. OCID’s statements on the August elections can be found here.
Published on October 15, 2015