Presidential Elections: Who Carries the Drum?

  • Posted on: 19 February 2006
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

radaHaitians have an expression, "After the dance, the drum is heavy". In other words, bad times tend to follow the good. With elections having been completed, how can this momentum be maintained rather than lost as has happened so many times before?

Elections are an important step for Haiti, but it is only a step. Last time around it was the Senatorial elections that got very messy. Funds have not yet been secured for local elections, but in terms of creating an environment conducive to advancing a civil socity, it will be crucial.

We all know that it takes more than a President to have a civil society. How can President Preval empower Haitian civil society? I have a few ideas and would like to hear your thoughts as well.

1) Start with what you have: Many of Haiti's community leaders come from or have ties to faith based organizations. They should be engaged in national and regional dialogues on conflict resolution, reconstruction, and development. Think broader than holding conferences, how to keep these leaders engaged and connected year round?

2) Protect the media: Haiti has never been an easy place to be a journalist. Being a whistle-blower has often proved to be a death sentence. For example, John Dominique's murder was never solved. Dissent is part of a democracy and when Haitian journalists can speka out without fear of reprisal, we will know Haiti is making democratic progress. Television is not a very effective medium in Haiti, but the country is saturated in radio coverage. The new government should think about broadcrasting important government meetings online.....the Haitian answer to C-Span, let's call it H-Span for now. Weekly town hall meetings at a regular day and time (in kreyol!) could go a long way.

3) Check and Balances: Having a representative and qualified Senate is important. But some of the shadiest charcters in Haiti have been Senators. In fact, some have had (informal) powers to rival those of the President. Before elections take place in the Senate, restructuring may be neccesary to ensure that no one individual can dominate.

Haiti is basically a bankrupt country right now. There is little discretionary funding available, and much of their tax revenue goes toward paying off debts from previous administrations, elected or not. The majority of this money will have to come from the international community. But at what price? This money could come from the US, but aid may be contingent on privatization. If privatization results in large scale lay-offs, this could have a destablizing effect on the Preval presidency. Tuning to Cuba and Venezuela could yield oil subsidies (no small thing when gas is six dollars a gallon or more) and health sector support. This strategy would alienate the United States and other major donors, though.

In the months to come, we will closely follow developments in Haiti. Regardless of how the political situation shakes out, it is my hope that civil society will not be neflected by the Haitian government and the international community. Grassroots participation is an important element of democracy.

Although not a political organization, Haiti innovation works with grassroots leaders to expand their activities in education, health, and other areas. The support we can provide them depends on supporters like you. Thank you very much for your contributions and encouragement.

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