Want election drama? Move to Haiti

April 6, 2011

Call Canadian elections boring all you want. But I’ll take them over a Haitian campaign any day.

Last week, I was in Port au Prince reporting on the work of the St. Joseph’s International Outreach Program, a medical aid group that has sent more than 100 volunteers to Haiti from around the region, including Guelph, since the earthquake. When I left, Haitians were still bracing for riots many expected would break out once the results of a long-delayed presidential runoff were released.

We love to gripe about our politicians, but we’ve got nothing on the drama that surrounds politics in Haiti. Only an hour and a half flight from Miami, on an island it shares with Dominican Republic, Haiti is another world entirely – and its politics is rife with corruption and violence.

I came home to a federal election campaign as grey and as dull as our winter sky. And it struck me as charmingly Canadian that what passes for provocative here is if Stephen Harper wears a powder blue cardigan instead of his usual royal blue sweater while stumping for votes.

We all grumble this election will cost taxpayers $300 million and most likely bring us another minority government, with a few seat changes. We’ll get a campaign with the obligatory photo-ops of leaders’ visits to Tim Hortons restaurants and local hockey rinks, and we’ll all go back to living our lives.

In Haiti meanwhile, the man who appears to have won the presidency, pop star Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, makes our candidates look like choir boys. He admits to having regularly smoked marijuana and crack cocaine and is known for dropping his pants onstage during concerts. As for questions of policy, he describes a sex act he would perform on a former president whose politics he dislikes.

Martelly was swept into office with zero political experience. He has no experience managing anything, except the carnival band he performed with 10 years ago.

While Harper and Michael Ignatieff argue over whether federal millions should be spent on a hydro dam for Newfoundland or a hockey rink in Quebec, Martelly is being handed a country staggering through chronic poverty, where hundreds of thousands are still living in tent cities and 4,600 have died in a cholera outbreak that began in October.

Elections have long been tricky, deceitful business in Haiti. This is a country that wrote the book on ballot-box stuffing and intimidation at the polls. One of Haiti’s most notorious dictators, Papa Doc Duvalier, famously won the district of La Gonave with more votes than there were people living on the island.

The country’s latest election was delayed again last fall because of massive fraud at the polls – armed gangs of thugs were going into polling stations grabbing stacks of ballots and filling boxes with the names of their favoured candidate. In Canada, we freak out because Harper goons asked a student to leave a rally in London because she was seen on Facebook posing with Ignatieff.

Here, political violence is limited to kicking over election signs. In Haiti, they burn the homes of political rivals and clash with peacekeepers in the streets.

In the days before the results of the presidential run-off were released, the United Nations stepped up armed patrols on the streets of Port au Prince. Blue-helmeted troops rumbled through winding laneways and cramped tents and tarpaulin camps to remind residents they have to accept whoever wins, whether they like it or not.

Canadian elections may be dull affairs, but for the most part, they’re honest, peaceful and legitimate. When we get the results, we may not like them, but we know we can trust them. And I’ll take that over drama, cheating and violence any day.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

Guelph Mercury, April 6, 2011

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