The focus of Haitian politics has always been the presidency. Weakly developed separation of powers has reflected this situation. Legislative bodies and elections, which have existed for centuries, have generally only assisted the chief of state in obtaining whatever he wished.
Haitian writers have often described the country's obsession with the presidency in pathological terms. As a young writer, long before he became president, François Duvalier identified the historical "mania for the presidency" as the disease of "presidentitis." Earlier generations of Haitian intellectuals had also bemoaned the destructive social effects of the presidency-for-life. This obsession continued to be an important political issue throughout the twentieth century.
As a result of the life-and-death power he wielded over the citizenry, the president has historically acquired a godlike quality. Presidents rarely represented a coalition of interest groups that joined forces through Western-style debate, compromise over party platforms, and competition at the polls. Rather, the president usually headed a faction that seized control of the state by any means possible, with the support of the army. In the process, the president became the personal embodiment of the state. François Duvalier wrote it in lights on the public square, proclaiming "I am the Haitian flag. He who is my enemy is the enemy of the fatherland." State and nation merged in the person of the president. In Haitian politics, there was no real distinction between state and government. Presidents could therefore claim with some justification that they were the state.Political parties and candidates also focused on the presidency. A plethora of individuals competed for the presidency; no true political parties existed. The emphasis on the presidency has hampered constitutional reforms designed to establish a sharing of power, free elections, and local representation. The emphasis also conflicted with the wave of popular expectations unleashed by the fall of Duvalier in 1986. Heightened expectations for change clashed with the regressive politics of old-line Duvalierists and tonton makouts. This clash contributed to the protracted post-Duvalier crisis of succession.
|Country Studies main page | Haiti Country Studies main page|