Saturday, March 1, 2014

Haiti must end its de facto moratorium on democracy

NEARLY THREE years into his term, Haitian President Michel Martelly has yet to hold parliamentary or local elections. Endless negotiations with a fractured political opposition amid an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and recrimination have produced tentative progress, for which Mr. Martelly was rewarded with an Oval Office meeting with President Obama this month. Yet there is still no agreement on electoral rules or a voting date set in a country whose fragile institutions can ill afford what amounts to a moratorium on democracy.

Mr. Martelly is not exclusively to blame. He is accused of high-handed maneuvering, but his political opponents also have engaged in obdurate gamesmanship. Power-sharing has not featured prominently in Haiti’s unhappy political history. The result, which fits that pattern, is an impasse in which a third of the seats in the Senate remain unfilled and scores of mayors have been appointed to their jobs by the president, rather than elected.

Unless the stalemate is broken and elections are scheduled soon, the status quo is a recipe for unrest and violence. Mr. Martelly had to contend with waves of street protests last year and in 2012, and the likelihood for more strife increases the longer elections are deferred. After four difficult years of recovering and rebuilding from the January 2010 earthquake and grappling with the world’s worst current cholera epidemic, the last thing Haiti needs is further political upheaval.

One hopeful sign is that talks on setting elections are being mediated by Cardinal Chibly Langlois , a revered figure in Haiti who has the moral authority to nudge the process toward resolution. The Obama administration can play a key role by continuing to insist on progress toward elections.

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