posted 25 Jul 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 10
Letter from… Haiti
By Danny Myint
HOW DO you run a free and fair election in one of the poorest countries in the world, where only half the population can read and write, hundreds of thousands of voters have no formal identification and many people live in remote villages unconnected by roads?
That was the challenge facing the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) earlier this year in Haiti, when the country went to the polls in presidential and first-round legislative elections on 7 February.
But with 63% of registered voters showing up at the polls, it was arguably one of Haiti’s best ever turn-outs, resulting in the election of agronomist René Préval as the country’s new president with 51.5% of the vote. International observers said that, despite some technical deficiencies, the elections were the best organised in Haiti’s history.
In a nation where communications infrastructure and services are barely adequate at best, managing information was a monumental task for the country’s electoral committee (CEP). With the help of the UN Mission in Haiti and the OAS, the election organisers undertook the challenge of managing information, both to and from the public, as well as internally.
Forget the internet. In Haiti, even old-fashioned phone lines are in short supply. Yet informing the public about the elections was a key aspect of the process. Only half of
Haiti’s 8.3 million population can read and write. Authorities delivered pictorial instructions to 9,290 polling sites set up across Haiti’s ten mountainous provinces. Some communities were so remote roads did not exits; ballots were delivered on donkeys or, in some cases, hand-carried to and from polling sites.
Collecting information about voters was challenging in a country where many citizens are undocumented. Three and a half million voters registered through the country’s first national identification (ID) program, ran by the OAS. Some 700,000 of those registrants had never had any formal ID before. Information on how and where to obtain the ID card was disseminated through radio programmes, the most effective medium in Haiti, as well as through public information days and by civic educators.
Keeping the press informed was also essential.
While the press in Haiti is relatively free, it is, however, not self-regulating. Sources go unchecked and information flows without any validation. News in Haiti often takes the form of rumour and sensationalism. In order to counter misinformation amongst the press, local reporters were trained on press ethics and professional journalism.
Electoral authorities were also encouraged to promote the transparency of the election procedures and to provide accurate information about them to deflect rumours and misconceptions. Information on how to conduct free and fair elections was also provided. A model tabulation centre and electoral security center was established to demonstrate international practices and procedures of collecting, tallying of ballots and security coordination, which would assist in combating electoral fraud in Haiti – a common cause of conflict and strife in the past.
Another key aspect of the success of the electoral process was to ensure ‘synergy’ amongst the key operators. Given the fact the three main organizers – the UN, the OAS and CEP – each worked on different aspects of the process, it was essential to identify a method of collaboration, to allow exchange of information and keeping each other informed of progress.
For the first time in Haiti’s history, these elections were deemed credible. Both the public and contending political parties agreed to the results. The election organisers incorporated concepts and practices of information management into their approach, which lead to a united, concerted effort – and a successful outcome.
Daniel Myint, an enterprise content management specialist, works with the communications and information technology section of United Nation’s mission in Haiti. He can be reached at email@example.com