Haiti postponed the constitutional referendum polls on a new draft constitution. The referendum vote was set to be conducted on June 27 after being previously rescheduled from April 25. The electoral body of Haiti announced that due to the increase in the number of coronavirus infections, the vote would have to be postponed. A new date has not yet been given out. A government t official in charge of elections, Mathias Pierre, commented on Twitter that plans would be put in place for the publication of a new timetable. He tweeted announcing the decision hours before a mission of five members from the Organization of American States was expected to arrive in Port-au-Prince. The mission aimed at facilitating a political discussion between the government and opposition members, and the civil society.
A group of private-sector institutions are the latest to show their concerns and reluctance about the June 27 referendum and requested the Haitian government to postpone the polls. This followed after six days of violent armed gang attacks in the capital. The organizations showed their agitation about the exercise itself, the broad political instability, the current coronavirus surge, and the regression of the security. The COVID-19 and the deterioration of security, they stated, “will only worsen a situation that is already unfit for reflection.”
“Today, it is undeniable that the Haitian people are living in fear and worries whether in Cap Haiten, Petit Goave via Martissant, Laboule, and Croix des Bouquets,” the organization said in a letter, naming Haitian cities that have been affected by violence lately. Rescheduling of the referendum will put less time between it and the first-round legislative and presidential elections set to be held on September 19, which the United States has been pushing to bring to an end the one-man rule of President Jovenel Moise.
Just like Trump’s administration, the Biden administration has been persisting that Haiti holds free, fair, transparent, and credible legislative and presidential polls- an exercise some U. S. policymakers have termed as impossible under Jovenel, and the European Union has also said it is impossible under the present volatile situation. The U. S. State Department has insisted the constitutional referendum that Moise has been persisting on conducting before the elections, should not delay or prevent legislative and presidential elections in 2021.
“The success of the constitutional reform lies in the hands of the Haitian people,” a State Department spokesperson told media before the postponement. “On our side, we have stressed to the government that we will not offer any help in support of a constitutional referendum…However, the referendum should be viewed as inclusive, credible, and transparent to the people of Haiti.”
The conclusion on postponing the referendum was made in the middle of a deadly surge of coronavirus infections that is devastating hospitals. Still, the country is battling gang violence that has recently blocked access between the Southern region and the capital. The brutality affected internet services in four areas and forced thousands of poor Haitians in Port-au-Prince’s Martissant to escape from their homes.
The gang violence has only made the existing political tensions over the end of Moise’s presidential service and the referendum worse. Many constitutional experts in Haiti and other legal scholars have found the referendum illegal as it violates a prohibition of referendums in the current document. Moise and his followers argue that the referendum is not for a change but for a new constitution in general. A draft of the new constitution shows less power for parliament and gives more power to the president. Should the constitution be reformed, the parliament will be reduced to two chambers; a weakened court of auditors tasked with keeping an eye on government corruptions and contracts, and the prime minister to be replaced by a vice president. Also, instead of holding elections every two years, all elections would be conducted every five years.
The opposition leaders have asked the population to burn voting materials to prevent the elections from happening and chased the justice minister out of a southeastern town with rocks after believing that he was there to push for the referendum. Rockefeller Vincent, the Justice Minister, said God saved him as he explained how he was in the community to discuss border security.
Haiti’s Catholic bishops gave out their views opposing the referendum. They warned that the polls could further worsen an already complex condition and deepen Haiti’s political chaos. “The decision to reform the constitution should not happen amidst a political crisis in which the country is struggling to come into an agreement,” said the Episcopal Conference of Haiti.
The former president, Jocelerme Privert, has also joined the opposition. The head of the National Assembly and an interim president who oversaw the previous elections which brought Jovenil to power said Moise risks being called before the high court for the crime of high treason should he decide to disregard the same bylaws that brought him to power. “Moise’s decision to reform the 1987 constitution will worsen the present political instability, and it will be a threat to democracy,” Privert wrote.