Elections Without Participation
The disadvantaged class of Haitian society is not interested in the election happening today. They do not believe this election can change their situation. After more than ten months of international and national promises, today the survivors of the January earthquake should have the right to participate in finding an alternative, but in reality none exists. This election poses no tangible alternative to the existing structure of power. In addition, no candidates have presented earthquake survivors with an outlet to question those who have promised aid that never arrived.
It is clear that the people are not enthusiastic to participate in these elections. In the heavily populated neighborhoods of Cite Soleil, less than 100,000 people are registered to vote. This is despite the fact that most of those who lost their homes in Cite Soleil are still living within the community in makeshift housing and there were at least 300,000 residents in the area before the earthquake.
Why would a historically politically active area like Cite Soleil demonstrate apathy to vote in elections billed by the national and international community as critical to the country’s reconstruction? The reason lies in the daily reality of the majority of Haitians in two key constituencies: earthquake survivors living in makeshift camps under tarps and bed sheets, and farmers struggling to make ends meet throughout Haiti’s often ignored rural areas.
Throughout this election period scant attention has been paid to the situation beyond the capital. As is often the case in Haiti, the “Republic of Port-au-Prince” has dominated headlines and campaigns. While candidates have battled to have the catchiest jingles and most colorful and attractive posters, they have failed to articulate concrete strategies to change the conditions of life for people in rural areas. Although the earthquake demonstrated that centralization in Port-au-Prince is not only inefficient but even deadly, candidates continue to marginalize the majority of Haiti’s population, the 65% living as peasant farmers.
But Haiti’s farmers need not feel ignored on their own; the extremely visible homeless survivors of January’s earthquake, who still fill the parks, fields and streets of Port-au-Prince, have been equally left out of the electoral campaign. While there have been demonstrations and sit ins calling for the prioritization of housing, jobs and education, more than one and half million people are still living in the squalor of the spontaneous settlements they created only days after the earthquake.
In addition to these fundamental problems, the situation in two of the largest camps of homeless earthquake survivors, clearly illustrates how these victims are not able to engage in the current electoral process. If we take the example of Corail, a camp of more than 2,500 families that has only one voting center with forty registered voters, we begin to see the disenfranchisement of the internally displaced. The same situation exists in the unofficial camp of Kanaran, a settlement of more than 350,000 people that surrounds the official relocation site at Corail. In Kanaran, there is one voting center with only three hundred and five registered voters.
During this electoral period, the Haitian government has not taken the steps necessary to deal with the escalating crisis of cholera spreading through the country. Cholera treatment centers (CTCs) are without adequate personnel or materials to handle the caseload. Elections at this moment raise the specter of a potential political crisis that would exacerbate the already tenuous health care network available for those affected by cholera.
In this context, Haiti’s poor majority will not participate in elections. They face obstacles simply to survive, especially now when they lack even the most basic things they need to protect their families from cholera, such as clean water for washing and drinking. The electoral season failed to illuminate a candidate or political party with a comprehensive platform that addresses the needs and priorities of the rural poor and the internally displaced. However despite the lack of participation from those most in need of truly democratic leadership, the international community stands ready to rubber stamp the results of elections, no matter how low the voter turn out or how loud the voices of discontent. Haiti’s disadvantaged class has long been invisible to those who have the power, influence and means to determine the country’s future and unfortunately this election will do nothing to change that.