History of Democracy in Haiti

Part I: History of Democracy in Haiti

Part II: Elections in Haiti

Part III: Problems Facing Haitian Implementation of Democracy

Part IV: A Comparative Situation


The first real democratic election happened in Haiti in 1957. The 1957 election was more democratic than any election in the Haitian history until that point, but the election was and still remains the most infamous in the Haitian election as well, as it elected a candidate from Parti de l’Unité nationale for presidency, his name is François Duvalier. [1]


Papa doc was popular back then, in fact, his popularity was praised by Haitians as if he was the savior of God. Duvalier ran the most repressive regime that is probably ever known; his repressiveness is probably only surpassed by his dear friend, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. He abolished Haitian military force and instead established Presidential Defense Force, Tonton Macoute, a force dedicated to the protection of Papa Doc’s personal safety. Tonton Macoute members have no salary[2], instead, they rob civilians with their “militant” status and abuse civilian properties.


François held a constitutional referendum in 1971 in order for his son, Jean-Claude to become president after his death.


The referendum asked these two questions,


  1. After the death of François Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier will success François as the president of Haiti, head of state and government of Haiti
  2. Reduce the minimum age of becoming Haitian president to 18.


In a manipulated poll, Duvalier received 2,239,917 votes in favor of constitutional amendment and no vote against it. [3]


François died three months after the referendum. 19-year-old Jean-Claude succeeded him as the president of Haiti. In 1985, a referendum confirmed Duvalier’s legitimacy for his adoption of Article 106-109 in the Haitian 1983 constitution that made Jean-Claude lifetime president with the right to name heirs.


The referendum was held on July 22, 1985, with 99.8% of Haitians in favor of this decision, and 0.2% against. In fact, voting against the referendum could bring serious consequences to voters’ family, also the yes item was already marked on ballot papers used, thus hardly anyone voted against the referendum.


And then the story everyone knows: Jean-Claude was overthrown and a new transitional government was installed. Haiti held its first democratic election in 1991 and elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown in a coup d’état ten months after.


The 1991 election is more democratic and has more turnout than any other election in Haiti, ever. With a turnout of 50.2%, by far Haiti’s best electoral turnout record. [4]

Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the Lavalas Political Organization was elected president with a landslide 67% popular votes. Aristide is a black businessman and philanthropist who founded the Fanmi Lavalas, a private social welfare agency. [5]

Aristide’s political agenda includes education reform, state welfare reform and other social reforms. His reforms were incredibly popular among Haiti’s dark-skinned, poor working class. However, his agenda angered the military, which controlled Haiti for four years after the deposition of Duvalier and before Aristide’s presidency. Haiti’s then-military commander, Raoul Cédras, lieutenant general started a coup d’état and removed Aristide from presidency. He installed Marc Bazin, the prime minister as a puppet president, while ruling Haiti behind the curtain. Like Rafael Trujillo from the Dominican Republic, Cédras does not like holding a public office and held no active office except military commander during his three years as the dictator of Haiti before Bill Clinton removed him and reinstated Jean-Bertrand Aristide as Haiti’s president.

Aristide served his remaining term as Haiti’s president and called an election to be held in 1995. As Haitian constitution forbids the reelection of incumbent president, Aristide picked René Préval as his successor. Préval was elected in a landslide victory with almost 85% of the popular votes. [6]


[1] Sauveur Pierre Etienne, Haïti, misère de la démocratie, L’Harmattan, 1999, p.70

[2] Jeb Sprague, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Monthly Review Press, 2012, volume 6-8

[3] Nohlen, D (2005), Elections in the Americas: A data handbook, Volume I, p.388

[4]“HAITI: Parliamentary Elections Assemblée Nationale, 1990. Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1991. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

[5] Aristide, Jean-Bertrand, and Laura Flynn. Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization. Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2000. Print.

[6] Nohlen, pp. 392

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