2011-02/un-tank-outside-the-cep-photo-by-erin-b-taylor.jpg

Is democracy now the greatest good for Haiti?

As I sit here, having given up on hearing Préval announce Haiti's election results tonight, I can't help but wonder what semblance of democracy Haiti salvages, and whether it matters.

A number of events over the last few weeks call into question the idea that democracy is always concerned with the greatest good for the greatest number. Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier's return to this island after twenty-five years is a case in point.

As I sit here, having given up on hearing Préval announce Haiti's election results tonight, I can't help but wonder what semblance of democracy Haiti salvages, and whether it matters.

A number of events over the last few weeks call into question the idea that democracy is always concerned with the greatest good for the greatest number. Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier's return to this island after twenty-five years is a case in point.

Micky Martelly recently stated that Duvalier's return is an example of Haitian democracy in action. But Duvalier's landing on this island is a severe blow for all of the people who remember the violence of his, and his father's, rule of Haiti from 1957-1986.

As the Haitian proverb says, Bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje: He who gives the blow forgets; he who carries the scar remembers.'' It is not at all clear that the democracy wrapped up in Duvaler's return is bringing a net benefit to the country. If either Papa Doc or Baby Doc had been assassinated during their iron-fisted rule, it would not have been democratic at all. But it is difficult to argue that it would not have been for the greatest good by saving so many lives.

Today, the reappearance of Duvalier on the scene has caused anxiety in an already tense political situation as people do not know what he or his supporters are planning, and Duvalier's arrest has not allayed these fears significantly.

In fact, a second example of democracy in action–the Haitian government's agreement to allow Aristide to apply for a diplomatic passport–only darkens the ominous clouds hovering over Haiti's long-term political horizon.

Their presence alone has the ability to create violent concrete on the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. Certainly Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas should be allowed to stand for election. But would Haiti be better off–have a greater long-term chance of stable democracy–if Duvalier and Aristide stayed away?

The problem is that being democratic sometimes, but not others, is very dangerous. It is open to abuse by people in power. If you lock out two powerful and contentious ex-Presidents because it is good for stability, then you set a precedent for excluding whichever political leaders you do not agree with on the basis that they create instability.

This flexible democracy is the crucial issue that Préval faces at the moment. The elections were widely criticized as being at least partially fraudulent, and the international community are displaying a range of opinions as to the neutrality of the OAS's recount. Préval's attempted stand down of Celestin would appease Martelly's supporters and the USA, but whether it is in fact democratic is highly dubious. If Préval hangs onto the presidency beyond the end of his term on February 7th (which is also the 25th anniversary of Baby Doc's departure), that won't be exactly democratic either.

The most democratic thing to do is rerun the elections entirely. But at what cost? Haiti has already spent a lot of time and money running the current one, and lack of leadership is taking its toll. If the elections are repeated, Aristide's and Duvalier's followers stand a chance of getting a foothold, meaning that an escalation of violence on top of what already would have happened is likely, and the political crisis will drag on for months, leaving Haiti's rebuilding efforts in a shambles.

The planned presidential runoff on the 20th February may well be the best of a bad bunch of options in terms of the greater good of the country in the short and medium term. But, if democracy is what is desired in the longer term, Haiti would want to put some pretty good measures in place to ensure that due democratic processes are followed to the letter in the future.

I have serious doubts that this bandaid solution will work: problems have a way of reappearing in Haiti when not treated properly. I wonder whether Haiti isn't better off biting the democratic bullet and rescheduling its elections to try to get a result that is recognized by most people (within and without Haiti) as legitimate.

It is risky and the growing pains might be very unpleasant. But to delay democracy until a better time comes may backfire royally, because things have a way of never really getting better here. If the earthquake has taught the country anything, it's that it is the Haitian people who keep the country running, not the incumbent government. So, let them run it.