Judging by the multitude of spray-painted names of political parties and candidates on walls across Port-au-Prince, there is no deficit of democracy in modern Haiti. As the country heads towards an intense election season in the second half of this year, some ask instead whether there is a little too much. Diversity in viewpoints is seen as a welcome change for most Haitians, many of whom remember the ruthless suppression of political opponents and of freedom of speech in the second half of the last century under the presidency of “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc”, who died last year.
Yet, since the departure of the dictators, elections have been overshadowed by uncertainty, kidnappings and violence, which observers link to disputes by criminal gangs over territory — and with it access to funding provided for political campaigning.
“Politics is very macho,” says Dieudonne Luma, head of tourism in Haiti’s northern province, and a rare example of a woman standing for election as a senator this year. “Violence is used as an excuse for men to be in charge.”
Under President Michel Martelly, a colourful musician elected in 2011, some raised concerns about the democratic transition. He replaced elected mayors with nominated “municipal agents” after their mandates expired in 2012.