Haiti – A Working Government, but for How Long?
A partial round of legislative elections was held in late January, and the official results were confirmed shortly before the country’s new president, Jovenal Moïse, was sworn into office for a five-year term in early February. The completion of the last round of voting marked the culmination of an 18-month election cycle that began with legislative elections in August 2015, and was troubled by widespread irregularities that required the postponement or re-run of numerous contests, including the presidential election held in October 2015.
Moïse’s inauguration brought an end to a years-long period during which vacancies in the Senate contributed to chronic political dysfunction, and the prospects for more productive governance are brightened by the fact that Moïse took office claiming majority support in both legislative chambers, which enabled Moïse to obtain confirmation of his prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, in early March.
It remains to be seen how long the president’s majority will hold together and to what use he will put his political capital. Moïse, a banana exporter, has placed the agricultural sector at the center of his economic development strategy and pledged during the campaign to undertake a sweeping program of modernization aimed at producing enough food to meet domestic needs while also boosting agricultural exports. He has also set the ambitious goal of producing hundreds of thousands of new jobs for unemployed youth by positioning Haiti as a location of choice for international call centers.
However, modernization of the agricultural sector will require reform of land-use laws, while an effective anti-corruption effort, which will also be essential to more effective use of foreign aid, will necessitate the establishment of independent institutions empowered to investigate and pursue prosecution of tainted government officials and bureaucrats. A serious attempt to satisfy either of those conditions will not be conducive to promoting unity within his legislative coalition.
As for the potential for increased foreign investment more generally, powerful deterrents will persist, among them an inefficient bureaucracy, a poorly educated work force, high levels of crime, and woefully inadequate infrastructure. The outlook for a significant near-term reduction in security-related risk is poor, owing to the country’s dismal socioeconomic picture (some 80% of the population was estimated to be living in abject poverty even before the 2010 earthquake), a lack of professionalism within the national police force, and the continued presence of armed criminal gangs.
Indeed, with the UN planning to scale back its security presence in the country, there is a distinct risk that conditions could deteriorate. As MINUSTAH prepares to depart, the government has announced plans to restore the Haitian army, a proposal embraced by a growing number of Haitians amid heightened tensions with neighboring Dominican Republic. There is some risk that the revival of the military might give rise to violent competition, with former members of the disbanded armed forces demanding key positions in the new organization. In that regard, it is worth remembering that armed ex-soldiers played a central role in the uprising that led to the toppling of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004.
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