A minority to reckon with
Port-au-Prince, Haiti– Meet the would be future President of Haiti– Mirlande Manigat–one of only two women presidential candidates among 17 others engaged in a relentless pursuit of the crumbled Haitian palace.
The most recent survey by Haiti’s independent Economic Forum, released late last week, revealed that Manigat of the Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) has widened her lead over engineer Jude Celestin– President René Préval‘s protégé– to eight points, 30% to 22%. These results could be indicative of a 180-degree turn around from the incompetence and corruption the Haitian political élite has come to represent in favor of the care ethics model. This late 20-century school of thought attempted to deviate from traditional gender-based theories and principles that had trivialized or ignored virtues culturally associated with women.
Although Haiti has never elected a woman president, the idea is not revolutionary. In fact, another woman—Justice Ertha Pascal-Trouillot —held the highest office from 1990 through 1991 as the provisional President of Haiti. She had only been in office nine months when, on Dec. 16, 1990, she oversaw the elections of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in what historians have called the first truly free elections in Haiti.
Reflecting on these historical facts, political pundits wonder if it were a coincidence or simply a sense of misplaced nostalgia that the people of Haiti pushed Manigat passed her rivals at these late stages of the most critical elections of the country. When asked about her response to the cholera outbreak in a televised interview, she quickly replied: “I responded as a woman, a citizen, not as a candidate or politician.” She went on to emphasize the importance of not politicizing the cholera epidemic at the expense of the victims, in spite of the situation’s obvious political implications. Her populist, grandmotherly tone seemed to have resonated with Haitians, an electorate seeking a second coming of a messiah to restore their sovereignty and dignity.
Manigat is a well-respected, soft-spoken 70-year-old PhD scholar with an eye for fashion, but her opponents should not underestimate. She is ahead of Michel “Sweet Micky” Martely, arguably the most popular and genuine Haitian music star/entertainer who has been overtly critical of government throughout his career. Manigat is, in fact, not new to the political scene. She is a former first lady, wife of the 36th president of Haiti, Leslie Francois Manigat who was overthrown in a coup on June 20 1988, four months after his inaugural address.
The other half of the minority, independent Anne-Marie Josette Bijou, 69, is running on a reformist platform. In an interview with Pierre-Raymond Dumas of Le Nouvelliste, she declared, “I have a reputation that inspires confidence. In the current state of the country, we seek a person of this caliber, someone who is trusted in all sectors of national life as well as in the international community. I am undoubtedly this person, who is able to share her past and her experiences.” Dr. Bijou, as she prefers to be called, is also a well-respected scholar with an impressive 43-year resume in the public health, including a two-year term as the Public Health Minister of Haiti beginning in 2004. On the campaign trail, she promised to deliver a new Haiti by 2025 through strategic reforms, among those: education, health care, infrastructure and, most importantly a rupture in the country’s dysfunctional political culture.
Evidently, politics and governmental bureaucracy are not foreign to either of these two candidates, yet if one follows their rhetoric, they draw a sharp contrast between the reigning gender-based philosophy of governance, a history of epic failures, to introduced a softer, yet resounding voice of genuine concern, compassion and a sense of duty. That philosophy, not far removed from what male candidates are preaching in this election cycle, seems– at least for the time being—to have resonated with the electorate making the two women a minority to reckon with. While the care ethics approach might be a relatively new paradigm in Haitian politics, it would seem captivating enough to perhaps make history inciting the first election of a woman president of Haiti who will oversee some $10 billion in reconstruction aid pledged by international donors.
- Former First Lady Mirlande Manigat Could Be Next Haitian President (time.com)
- The Woman Who Would Be Haiti’s Next President (time.com)
- The Grandmother Who Would Be Haiti’s Next President (time.com)
- Presidential candidates appear to resort to graft to secure votes from Haiti’s most vulnerable (theglobeandmail.com)
- Rebuilding Haiti: Politics in the time of cholera (economist.com)
- Haitian elections: campaigning in the rubble (telegraph.co.uk)
- At the Heart of Haiti’s Cholera Riots, Anger at the U.N. – TIME (news.google.com)
- You: For Haitians, Campaign Trail Runs Through U.S. (nytimes.com)
- Anti-UN Protests Spread As Haitians Die Without Aid (bimchat.wordpress.com)
- Haiti cholera outbreak: the elections will change nothing (telegraph.co.uk)