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By Gerald Oriol, Jr. and James English
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

May 27, 2022 at 12:06 pm

Before Haiti holds an election to select the individuals and parties that will occupy the presidency and nearly vacant Parliament, we propose the country holds a referendum on the key points that could shape its future. Once these crucial points are voted upon by the general population, any subsequent government must be required to carry out these mandates rather than pursue its own political agenda. During future Presidential elections, subsequent referendums could be held to orient the agenda for the next administration. While this approach might not eliminate all public corruption or social unrest, it should serve as a deterrent to those seeking to hold political office for personal gain and reduce the frustration of those feeling disenfranchised from the democratic process.

What might referendum questions and answers look like?

Should the current government remain in power? Yes, until elections are organized. No, it should leave immediately and be replaced with a new provisional government with a mandate to organize elections within a year. No, it should leave immediately and be replaced with a new provisional government with a mandate to carry out reforms and organize elections within three years.

Should the constitution be revised? No. Yes, by the next elected Parliament. Yes, by a non-partisan committee of experts.

Who should draft a long-term development plan for the country? The next elected administration. The next elected Parliament. A non-partisan committee of experts.

Should international aid agencies be allowed to operate in Haiti? No. Yes. Yes, but only in collaboration with the Haitian state and Haitian organizations.

What method of security would you like to see the government develop? National Police. Haitian Army. External security like UN peacekeepers.

Unfortunately, there is a key issue to resolve before such a referendum might be held: insecurity, blatantly demonstrated last year with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The country is experiencing extreme lawlessness, and every day, the situation seems to deteriorate. In many neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, sporadic gunshots can be heard during the day, as these areas are slowly invaded by gangs. In many instances, citizens have either fled their homes or remain trapped inside, unable to safely travel to work or schools. Public forces are inadequate to quell the increased kidnappings and killings, and the situation is exacerbated by transnational crimes like arms smuggling and drug trafficking. Unless something changes soon, we may be headed toward a collapse of the state.

Under current conditions, a referendum with significant voter turnout, which is necessary for it to be legitimate, is unlikely unless an innovative solution is implemented, such as voting via cellphone. Haiti will need to secure funding within its national budget and introduce the necessary technology that will allow the country to conduct a transparent and effectively communicated referendum, a process that would provide every adult citizen with the opportunity to vote on fundamental questions of statehood.

Democracy is facing unprecedented threats throughout the world, and Haiti represents another front in that struggle. Haitians will strengthen their democracy by exercising their democratic right to vote. But the next vote needs to be about the ideas that could move the country forward, not the people who might hold it back.

Gerald Oriol, Jr. served as Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities under President Michel Martelly (2011-2016) and the late-President Jovenel Moise (2017-2020).

James English works at Texas Christian University and served as an advisor to Oriol during his two appointments as Haiti’s secretary with the disability portfolio.