|MAJOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS|
Haiti: MINUSTAH prepares for overdue elections
Despite progress achieved in preparing for elections and in establishing a safe and secure environment, the Transitional Government and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were confronted with serious political and security challenges during 2005. State institutions remained generally weak; and lack of resources continued to hinder local authorities from functioning smoothly, with negative effects on the State’s credibility. In some areas, disbanded local authorities remained in place, and violence by criminal gangs continued.
While throughout the year electoral preparations were faced with substantial technical difficulties and several postponements of the election dates, the registration of parties, candidates and voters included a relatively wide range of Haitian political opinion. This enhanced the credibility of the electoral process and the possibilities for a broad debate regarding the future of Haiti.
Remarkably, the registration of voters was a resounding success. Over a period stretching for five months,more than 3.5 million Haitians, out of an estimated maximum 4.5 million eligible voters, registered to vote in the elections at the 450 centres established nationwide, including in the slum of Cité Soleil.
The registration of 35 presidential candidates and 42 political parties gives an idea of the breadth of the Haitian political spectrum. Their participation in the electoral process symbolised the commitment by a majority of Haitians to take part in the democratic process. Recognizing the importance of dialogue among different political parties, MINUSTAH succeeded in getting political parties to agree on codes of conduct against corruption and not to use violence for political purposes.
The Provisional Electoral Council announced in late November that it was again postponing the country’s first elections since President Jean- Bertrand Aristide was forced out of office in February 2004. The Council called for presidential and legislative elections, to be held in early 2006, to be followed by a possible run-off in February and local and municipal elections in March. The Prime Minister announced that the Transitional Government would resign on 7 February, but would carry out ongoing business until the naming of a new Prime Minister [elections were held on 7 February, 2006].
The different postponements in the electoral calendar were the result an array of factors ranging from the crumbling infrastructure in the country to the weaknesses of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The latter, however, were largely addressed through the appointment in October of a Director-General and the adoption of a decree spelling out the division of responsibilities within it.
Throughout 2005, MINUSTAH was providing extensive logistical and technical assistance to the CEP in organizing the elections with a view to ensure the credibility of the process. By the end of the year, the mission had deployed dozens of senior trainers in the provinces to train 1,325 electoral agents and 809 polling station supervisors. The electoral agents, in turn, were expected to train over 37,000 polling station personnel.
Hundreds of electoral observers from different international organizations and countries had started arriving in Haiti, expecting to contribute to the conduct of free and fair elections. Their presence, alongside local election observers, was to help to prevent, report and correct election irregularities, particularly given concerns over possible links between political parties and armed groups, questions over the independence of electoral workers, and other technical issues which could impede voter access and the transparency of the voting and counting processes.
Inside the country, the overall security situation also improved, despite gang violence that continued to threaten the public in many areas. While outside Port-au-Prince the security situation became relatively calm following MINUSTAH operations, the situation in the capital remained fragile.
Kidnappings surged in Port-au-Prince during the spring and became a major source of income, affecting victims of all ages and economic backgrounds, despite several operations by MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police to arrest suspected kidnappers and free their victims.
To counter the violence, MINUSTAH reinforced its troop numbers to its authorized strength of 6,700 and later in the year to almost 7,500, following a Security Council decision to increase the number of peacekeepers in view of the many security threats linked to the electoral process.
Over the summer, the situation in Port-au-Prince improved substantially in the Bel-Air area, where MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police (HNP) established a permanent security presence. However, the slum of Cité Soleil, another hotspot in the capital, continued to pose a serious security threat, and several peacekeepers were killed or wounded in shooting incidents over the course of the year.
The HNP remained weak despite MINUSTAH’s efforts to reform and restructure the force. Of particular concern was the pattern of alleged serious misconduct of HNP officers, including their alleged involvement in the summary execution of at least nine people on 20 August at a football game in Port-au-Prince.
In addition to political and security problems, Haiti also continued to face economic catastrophe. Massive unemployment, a high illiteracy rate and a destroyed infrastructure have combined to make Haiti one of the poorest countries in the world.
There is no doubt Haiti was at a critical juncture at the end of the year. High voter registration, however, and the presence of candidates representing a broad range of opinion had improved the prospects for credible elections in early 2006. MINUSTAH made progress in handling urgent security threats. Nevertheless, the gains remained fragile.
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2006