The Oddball Candidates, or, The Tragedy of Lord Buckethead

For a long, long time, there have been candidates for political office that seem to be involved simply to mock the whole process. Some, like Chris Grayling, accidentally find their way into high office. Others, however, are doing it deliberately – be it to mock the excesses of a bloated political system, torment a rival, or simply to get their fifteen minutes of fame. From punks to muppets, it would not be democracy without the oddballs. And the most famous of all (right now, at least) is Lord Buckethead.

Alcohol for All!

Ever since there have been mass-participation elections there have been those who have stood apart from the rest. To take candidacy to its extremes is, in itself, a brash and outrageous expression of the very freedom to run for office – that punk ethic of “I can do it, so I will.” This was the drive behind the myriad of fermented parties that brewed up following the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was the Polish Beer-Lovers Party, a similarly titled affair in Belarus, and the Friends of Beer Party in the Czech Republic. Although most were a blend of libertarianish-license lovers and satires on the explosion of new parties after the wall came down, the Polish incarnation also aimed to promote English beer culture as a means to reduce vodka-fuelled alcoholism.

The ‘90s also saw the return of an older Austro-Hungarian frivolous tradition that was just as boozy but not so light on the creativity. Yes, there was the all-too-brief return of the brainchild of Czech anarchist and great wielder of farce Jaroslav Hašek – The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law. The group first sprouted in the 1900s, and ran in the Vinohardy District during the 1911 Austro-Hungarian elections beneath the shining light of “Moderate Progress,” a philosophy still deeply popular with Observer writers, and summarised as follows:

“The Svatopluk Čech Bridge was not built overnight. First Svatopluk Čech had to be born, become a famous poet, die, then there had to be an urban renewal, and only then was the Svatopluk Čech Bridge built.”

With it came famously “moderate” policies seemingly designed to insult voters and the choices they usually make, from draconian pledges like the reintroduction of slavery and the return of the Inquisition, to token giveaways such as “a free pocket aquarium” for all. Hašek’s campaign was marked by bombastic, rambling speeches: here’s some snippets.

“I became at once the victim of a slander campaign…for the opposing side has said of me that I have already been gaoled twice. My honourable constituents, I declare before you that this is a vile invention and a lie. It is quite untrue that I have been gaoled twice. I have been gaoled three times!…

…You must understand that those 1.3 sextons mean 800 votes for our candidate. You see, sextons have free access to the funeral offices and consequently to the lists of dead voters. These lists, as has been shown in the past successes of the National Freethinking Party can acquire exceptional importance on polling day.”

“He’s More Popular than the Prime Minister”

With such wild promises as “the nationalisation of janitors” or, as a frivolous British party promised in 2010, “to not raise tuition fees,” it is important not to actually win the election. But it’s happened quite a few times for our deliberate oddballs, notably in Aarhus, Denmark, home of the Union of Conscientiously Work-Shy Elements. In 1994, its leader Jacob Haugaard ran on a manifesto that, although clearly ridiculous, was largely kind-hearted and a refreshing, locally-focused contrast to his rivals. Such policies ranged from promising better weather and tailwinds on cycle paths (perhaps using some supervillainous weather machine), to playing to the work-shy core with an 888 promise – 8 hours for sleep, 8 for rest, and 8 for spare time. He also proposed the excellent policies of better Christmas presents and shorter shopping queues, among others.

“If work is so healthy, why not give it to the sick?”

He won.Whoops.However, Haugaard took it in stride. After winning, he said “I don’t know anything about politics. Now I get an education in how it works – with full salary!” Deciding to now “take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth,” Haugaard went on to serve his constituency diligently. In a hung parliament, his vote mattered, and he treated that duty with great care.

What’s more, he actually delivered on some of his campaign promises. Whilst there is no evidence the weather actually improved in Denmark during the ’90s, Haugaard did provide more bread for Aarhus ducks, Nutella rations for the Danish army, and a public toilet in his local park, where he had also (in a classic oddball candidate move) splurged his state funding on a post-election party for those mad enough to support him. Although Haugaard reckoned his vote should warn the world that any old populist crumbum could gain power in the right circumstances (dodged a bullet there), I think it shows that sometimes the best representatives come from the left-field.

Will the real Maxime Bernier please shut up?

Canada’s Rhinoceros Party sought to avoid the problem of winning by promising to immediately dissolve parliament if it won parliament, as elections were “so much fun” that “we should have them all the time” (clearly the Conservative Party agrees). However, it is worth noting that the party’s motto is a promise not to keep any promises.

The Rhinoceros Party is one of the world’s oldest nonsense parties, founded in the 1960s by Quebecois Doctor Jacques Ferron, named in honour of Cacareco, the rhino elected to office in Sao Paulo, 1958, and originally led by Cornelius the First, local zoo rhino. Now in its third incarnation, the Rhinos’ pledges over the years have included annexing both the UK and the US, repealing the law of gravity, declaring war on Tintin because of his Rhino-killing ways, and privatising the Queen (makes sense to me).

This year, the Rhinos ran to sabotage far-right Quebecois leader Maxime Bernier by running against him a guy called…Maxime Bernier. “If you’re not sure,” the latter Bernier suggested, “vote for both!”Canada is rich is oddball politics, and the Rhinos are rich in company in the history of such parties. A personal favourite of mine was the Canada Extreme Wrestling Party, founded in Newfoundland in 1999. The leadership was decided via Battle Royale, as 11 wrestlers faced off in the ring for the honour of leading the party. Quentin Barboni took the spoils, but their first candidate was WWF superstar Ed “Sailor” White – the Moondog King.

Don’t Blame Me, I voted for Mr Fish Finger

Britain, like Canada, also has a well-stocked history of frivolous candidates. Our preposterous first-past-the-post system allows for a lot of “wasted votes,” wherein a voter’s power is greatly diminished in “safe” seats defined by overwhelming popularity toward one party. It is easier, in these moments, to lend your vote to silliness, perhaps to protest against this fault in representation, or else to gift it to a little bit of comedy.In this endeavour, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party has flown the flag for decades. Its origins lie in Screaming Lord Sutch (3rd Earl of Harrow)’s Teenage Party of the 1960s, that campaigned for a lower voting age. After this happened, Sutch vanished for a while, resurfacing in the 1980s as head of the Monster Raving Loonies, a joint venture between Sutch and some graduates of the “Raving Loony” Oxbridge tradition.

Their successes, such as hammering the final nail into David Owen and the SDP, and originating the idea for pet passports and late drinking licenses, are well-known. The group, having been through numerous splits and the untimely deaths of Sutch and its second leader Catmando, is still going, under the guidance of Howling Laud Hope, and an institution in British political spheres – releasing its policies rapid-fire under the Manicfesto moniker. However the Loonies’ longstanding brand, especially since the Sutch days, has been accused of being somewhat stranded and stagnant, shown in its recent development of an unexpectedly earnest nature towards Brexit and Piers Morgan.

The prime stage for lunatics and oddballs is the Prime Minister’s seat in a General Election. Alongside the ever-present Lawd Hope, you will usually find some flamboyantly dressed character (or creature) who, for £500 well spent, has the opportunity to get on TV and, as a happy consequence, make the PM and first-past-the-post look a little bit ridiculous. It was in Thatcher’s Finchley seat in 1987 that Lord Buckethead graced us with his presence.

Lord Buckethead is the villain of the awful and wonderful low-budget ’80s 3D Star Wars knock-off Gremloids. He first inhabited the body of one Mike Lee, who promised to demolish Birmingham to build an intergalactic spaceport (I’ll compromise with Solihull). Lee came back to face John Major in 1992, before putting his bucket out to pasture.Our dear leader found a new host in 2017, in Jonathan David Harvey, who set off to Maidenhead to take on Theresa May. In this election, he was in crowded company. In Maidenhead he was challenged not only by Lawd Hope but a terrifying man-sized Elmo. Elsewhere frivolous candidates included Mr Fish Finger, a personal hero of mine, on a committed quest to prove that Tim Farron was less popular than a fish finger, and Gavin Barwell, who completed his performance art piece by losing his seat after publishing a book entitled “How to win a marginal seat.”

Buckethead stood out, of course. It was a combination of the utter obscurity of the reference (yet replete in political tradition), Harvey’s clowning in the count room and an engaging manifesto that brought him to international fame.

Harvey had decided to stand after watching Gremloids one evening and discovering Lee’s candidatures in a post-movie trivia hunt. “Wouldn’t it be funny to bring him back?” He thought.

Harvey’s Buckethead had perhaps the most endearing manifesto ever promised by an Oddball. Under his “Strong, not entirely stable” leadership and a mix of progressive populism, eccentricity and megalomania, Buckethead made pledges from the nostalgic “bring back Ceefax” to the universalist aims of nationalising Adele and banishing Katie Hopkins to the Phantom Zone. Even policies he stood to gain from were slanted in a moral manner, from abolishing the House of Lords (except for Lord Buckethead) to banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia (in order to sell arms to Lord Buckethead). Best of all was an earnest pledge to regenerate the shopping centre in Maidenhead.

The Tragedy of Lord Buckethead, or, The rise of Count Binface

Harvey, now an overnight sensation, next appeared in Glastonbury with the Sleaford Mods. But unfortunately he had drawn the attention of Todd Durham, the creator of Gremloids. Since the ’80s, Durham had since founded the $1bn Hotel Transylvania franchise. He saw it fit to sue Harvey for copyright and banned him from using Lord Buckethead and his image. Now Lord Buckethead™, Durham still deploys his character in UK politics (and hijacking a buzz Harvey created), but the villain has now adopted a decided pro-EU agenda, largely seen raising funds for People’s Vote campaigns. More recently, Lord Buckethead™ has joined the Monster Raving Loonies.

Harvey, although regretful, had accepted Durham’s claim and had announced his retirement from running for office. It felt as if the tragedy of Lord Buckethead is the tragedy of UK politics today – money wins (Goodnight, Sweet Prince). But Harvey was not done yet. Last month, a mysterious new challenger appeared in the West London suburbs – one Count Binface.

Harvey, after an “unpleasant battle on Planet Copyright,” had returned “like Anthony Joshua” to triumph over Boris Johnson. Count Binface’s manifesto repeats the desire to bring back Ceefax and nationalise Adele, but also promises to ban arms sales to all repressive regimes and abolish the Lords, alongside renaming London Bridge “Phoebe Waller Bridge”. At the same time, he has expressed surprise that Lord Buckethead™ had joined the Loonies, having expected him to take over Change UK, and hopes to catch up with Elmo once again on election night.

“It’s time for surreal change.”

Even in the misery of our times, the oddball tradition is alive and well. As Dr Sophia McClennen argues, it does not drive cynicism but in fact harnesses it to fuel engagement. Alongside, in its own way, it echoes Stanley Kubrick’s insistence that “however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light” by providing a bit of humour and, in the case of Harvey’s characters, kindness from the most unlikely source. He also reminds us that Oddballs can serve a moral purpose – wrapping important messages, lost among the muck-racking and Tory lies that have dominated this campaign, in an eye-catching package.

Do not vote for this man

However, if you are in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, PLEASE do not vote for Count Binface, or Lord Buckethead™, or Elmo. Uniquely, in 2019, the PM’s seat is in play. Votes here matter more than perhaps any vote anywhere in Britain, past or present. There is a Dark Lord to be felled far more dangerous than any Gremloid, or creation bearing no actual resemblance to said Gremloid. That is Boris Johnson. There is a chance to unseat him here and blow up the Death Star.

For the love of Cacareco, do not waste this opportunity.

Decision 1789: A Brief History of Picking US Presidents



Today is the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in a leap year, which means only one thing – it’s the 1463rd day of the US presidential campaign!

Election day, it’s nearly over. Like a sacred Leap Day, or a planetary alignment, this Tuesday is the only day in four years when nobody is running for president. For Hillary Rodham Clinton, said to have been running since at least the day she last left the White House, it is likely* to be the last day she is not President of the United States of America. In kind, in January 2017, Clinton is likely* to become the first woman president.

(*based on 538’s 69% chance of Hillary White House. no sure thing. UPDATE : 4:40am here, looks like Trump’s gonna win)

She would (figuratively) get the keys to her new presidential mansion – creatively named the “White House” after its fair complexion – sometime in the early hours of Wednesday morning, so long as at least 270 members of the electoral college pledge for her instead of her rival, Donald J. Trump.

This manner of selecting a Brand New Overlord dates back to the very first election, when 69 electors gathered in 1789 to pick the first president. Each elector was given two votes, on the understanding that all would give their first vote to George Washington, and the candidate who received a plurality of the second votes would win the prize of Vice President, which went to John Adams.

Of course, there was nothing democratic about this initial selection. Only the states that had ratified the constitution got to take part, with apologies to the indecisive North Carolina and Rhode Island. New York fell out with itself, so wasn’t allowed to play either. No matter, they’d have chosen Washington anyway. Only six of the ten participating states had a popular vote for their electors, of which only free people with sufficient property were eligible to vote.


College Dropouts

The Electoral College has managed to outlast many of these old ways, mainly because it has sanctified in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. Tomorrow, the US voters indirectly vote for Hill or Donny by voting for pledged electors, “stand-ins,” for their will. Each state gets as many electors as it has Senators and Houses Representatives, and DC gets three too under the terms of the 23rd Amendment. Each state is winner-take-all (except Maine and Nebraska, but let’s ignore them today).

In the old days, there was nothing holding these electors to the vote other than a Gentleman’s Agreement. Reneging was common; it happened in every election from 1796 to 1808, and frequently after that. Such characters were known as “faithless electors.” In 1820, one generous New Hampshire elector gave his vote to his pal John Quincy Adams. How kind – Adams wasn’t even running that year. It wasn’t always intentional. In 1864, Nevada only cast two of its three votes for Lincoln, because one poor soul, on his way to vote, got snowbound in Colorado.

In 1824 John Quincy Adams actually ran, and he set a few records along the way. It was the first election where they recorded the popular vote, and he won with 30.9% of it. That may seem low – because it is. He didn’t win the popular vote. Andrew Jackson got 40 000 more votes (41.4% of the total vote), and even got 15 more electors. However, Jackson didn’t take a majority of electors, and so the decision went to the House of Reps, or more accurately, a dusty, mysterious Washington office – these days the natural habitat of Cigarette Smoking Men leaning on a filing cabinet. There, Henry Clay gave his support (he’d won 37 electors) to Ol’ Quince, handing him the presidency.

Some say Clay did it for the position of Secretary of State, which he duly received. Others point out that Clay was politically closer to Adams, and he thought little of Jackson, proclaiming that “I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy” (wonder what he’d make of hosting the Apprentice).

Adams was the only person to win the president through the House, and as the first child of a former President to follow in his father’s footstep, he founded the first Presidential Dynasty, which have become increasingly popular in recent years (google Chelsea 2024, for further information).

Adams, however, was not the last president to lose the popular vote but win the White House, thanks to the wonders of the Electoral College, a system whose beauty is supposedly in its simplicity but hides unending complications.  It happened twice in the post-Civil War era, when there were a series of close elections – marked by mudslinging, shady deals and assassinations, as the USA struggled to reconcile its differences. It happened in 1876, when Rutherford Hayes won the college by a single elector (more of that an’ on). It happened again in 1888, where Grover Cleveland was temporarily evicted from the White House by Benjamin Harrison. Most recently, Al Gore won the popular vote by 500 000 in 2000, but George W. Bush took** Florida by 537 votes and with it came the White House.

(SIDEBAR – It seems a preposterous system in these incidences – but I’m not going to pretend I’m sat on some high British horse – the UK’s current government got a parliamentary majority of just 37% of votes cast, and 24% of those eligible to vote. The current Prime Minister was selected by a grand total of 199 people. That’s just the way of things.)

A High British Horse. Source:


Elephants and Donkeys

The USA has a two-party system. The US has gone through a grand total of six party systems over the years, but the last few have all involved the Republicans and the Democrats. Both were originally founded for a purpose, but have shape-shifted a few times over the years, changing bases and constituencies in an eternal quest for power. The Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Whigs, Anti-Masons, Know Nothings, Bull Moosers, Progressives, Dixiecrats and Reformists have all come and gone, but the long-standing rivalry between the Reds and the Blues has stood firm.

The Democrats, symbolised by the donkey, sprouted from Thomas Jefferson’s now confusingly-sounding Democratic-Republican party. They initially saw themselves as the defenders of individual liberty against the malevolence of central power (embodied by Quince and Clay’s 1824 handshake), but as much as anything it became the very model of a modern political machine.

The Republicans (who claim the Elephant as mascot) were founded as an anti-slavery party in the 1850s, and quickly found support as the Whigs and Democrats pulled themselves apart in the slide towards civil war. Under William McKinley, the Republicans began their courting of Big Business, whilst the Democrats, retaining an element of southern populism, moved steadily towards social democracy characterised by FDR’s “New Deal.” Things changed again in the ‘60s, when the Democrats seceded the “Solid South” after their lukewarm embrace of the Civil Rights Movement. Meanwhile, Richard Nixon formed a “Southern Strategy” where the Republicans would say thinly-veiled racist, segregationist things to court the Deep South over to their side. Then Reagan came to town in the ‘80s and turned the entire USA over to neoliberalism (twas fertile ground, some might say), before Bill Clinton and the New Democrats responded by diluting the New Deal to incorporate the spirit of the Gipper.

Republicans in red, Democrats in blue. 1896 and 2004 elections. Source:

So that’s how the parties came to look like how they look now. Sort of. They disagree on a fair few things, such as climate change, abortion, and the name of an east coast NFL team. But on many issues the two parties aren’t too far apart, such as taxes, foreign policy, business, trade, welfare, and the USA’s self-styled status as the “Leader of the Free World.” With the exception of Hillary and Barack, they’ve also tended towards wealthy, old white male candidates.

Their similarity is in part due to the centripetal nature of the Electoral College, and the parties’ longstanding record as efficient, election-winning political machines. It sits in striking contrast to a US society that is once again ripping itself apart; a fact that reflects itself in the electoral map. The USA is growing polarised on the fault lines of race, class, gender, policy and religion, and this is increasingly reflected in the voting habits in states. Swing states are becoming a rare breed. This phenomenon is not unique to the States; it’s happening here in Britain, starkly illustrated by the 52-48 Brexit vote. In the UK, our party system has splintered, but across the Atlantic the hegemony of the donkey and the elephant has held firm.

Sorry, Ross Perot.

Why? Well, US politics is a big money industry. It is difficult for a third-party campaign these days to compete with the big guns. Another reason is because of our good friend the Electoral College. As with much of the USA’s structure, it was designed to ensure that no one area could dominate affairs by racking up huge majorities in specific regions, whilst simultaneously ensuring the interests of regions and individual states are heard through its winner-take-all model. It’s nifty like that.

A successful third-party candidate has to compete across the country, and make sure they have a regional support base somewhere greater than that of the two main parties’ candidates. You need to be flush with cash to do that. Yet the USA has a lot of love for plucky outsiders. Perot did well in ’92, gaining 19.7m votes (19% of the total), but didn’t earn a single electoral vote.

In 2000, there was still a lot of frustration with the “lesser of two” choice that the main parties were now serving up. 2.8m voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in an election where Bush and Gore were separated by just 500 000. In Florida, Bush was given the victory after weeks of recounting – lawyers everywhere – by just 537 votes. Nader had got 97,421 in the Retiree Alligator State. So many things can cause a 0.009% gap in an election. Weather, traffic, the 562 votes cast for the Socialist Workers Party, the “Butterfly Ballot” that supposedly encouraged votes for minor parties, hanging chads, votes denied to 1% of Floridians (and 3% of black voters) on account of being a “felon” including for crimes said to have been committed after the 7th November…buuuuuut for the most part Nader got the blame for taking Gore’s votes. It could be argued that the two-party system is so rigid in the States that Nader and his voters were naïve; myself, however, I’m uncomfortable with the notion that a candidate can take another’s votes, as if a candidate can own a vote before it is cast.

A Hanging Chad – Chad, Hanging


Third party candidates weren’t so popular after that. It’s easier these days to be an insurgent within one of the main political machines, thanks to their fluid ideologies and the Primary system of candidate selection, where anybody with enough cash or support can make an honest run at being a Democratic or Republican candidate for the presidency. It’s what Trump, Cruz and Sanders have tried this time around. Maybe we’ll see more of it in the future, especially on the red side. Once you’ve got the nomination, it seems the USA is so wrought in two that you’ve still got a chance at the White House. No matter how openly megalomaniacal you are, no matter how abusively racist and sexist you are in public and private, no matter how much of a nuclear-fallout-after-a-trainwreck-landslide-Godzilla-attack candidate you are, you’ll still likely do better than Dukakis. That’s just the way of things.


The Immortal Jim Crow

The voter suppression tactics that swirled around discussions of Florida 2000 were no stranger to presidential elections. They are no stranger still.

Back to 1876. Rutherford Hayes won by a single electoral vote, having lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden. Tilden had taken 184 electors, but three Southern states, Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, were yet to officially declare, amid reports of voter fraud and suppression that particularly targeted African-American voters. Importantly, these three states had Republican governors, and together their electors would see Hayes over the line. Here the Republicans set up “returning boards” to recount the election, root out Democratic voting fraud, and maybe doctor some results of their own.

A North Carolina red shirt, c1898. Source: Wikipedia

By 1876 the Democratic voter suppression racket was fully operational. The party hacks made allegiances with Southern paramilitary groups the Red Shirts and the White (Man’s) League to intimidate black voters and break up Republican organisation in the South. It was working, and for the first time since the Civil War the Democrats look set to regain the region, sweeping even those districts with massive black majorities. Were there no vote-mangling at all, it is likely Hayes would have carried much of the South.

Unsurprisingly both sides claimed victory, each accusing the other of fraud. It got incredibly heated, and there were fears that a second civil war could erupt. Eventually, it (officially) went to Congress where a Commission voted 8-7 (along party lines) to give the states to Hayes. Secretly, however, in another smoke-filled room, Hayes met with senior Democrats promising a series of federal spending in the South and, importantly, the withdrawal of Federal troops from the region.

This ended Reconstruction, handing a monopoly of Southern violence to racist groups such as the Red Shirts, who would incorporate themselves into state militias. In exchange for a Republican presidency, the party seceded control of the South to their rivals, abandoning the newly enfranchised former slaves. Over the coming years, Democrats constructed a framework of laws alongside a widespread system of intimidation that locked out African-Americans from voting and running for office and denied them a whole host of civil liberties. This was the Jim Crow South, where black people lived segregated from white people in an Apartheid enshrined by the Supreme Court (Plessy v Ferguson, 1896). Although emancipated, ex-slaves in the South were not yet free.

1876, from the Rutherford Hayes Papers. Source:

Jim Crow was largely felled by the Civil Rights Movement, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (on paper) ended disenfranchisement on the basis of race. Yet, as Florida 2000 shows, it still goes on. In 2016, it appears to be making a strident comeback, alongside the white nationalist fervour of the Trump campaign. Poor, minority areas across the USA generally have fewer voting stations, with less staff. Voting takes place on a Tuesday, and the polls close in the early evening. Those with long, unforgiving jobs may not be able to spare enough time in the day to queue to vote. Voting bans on felons – the USA is the incarceration capital of the planet – take millions off the register and disproportionately affect black people. In North Carolina, over 6000 voters, mostly black democrats, have been taken off the register in a process illegal under federal law. Jim Crow lives. It never really went away. That’s just the way of things.


Until Next Time…

Robert McCrum in the Guardian says that many believe the electoral system to be broken, “but it has seemed broken before and somehow staggers on.” Maybe. Maybe it’s worked fine for those it is made to serve. Maybe, like the Second Amendment, the Electoral College is so ingrained into the American fabric first wove by the Founding Fathers that to change it would be considered treasonous. Maybe, as when it was first created, the Electoral College keeps the lid on American tensions and papers over the cracks of this nation. Either way, it isn’t likely to change any time soon, but the way the USA has chosen its president over the last 200 years has had a great bearing on who ends up in the White House, affecting all of our lives from that oval office.

Soon we’ll know who that next person will be. In the meantime, relax. The next election begins in less than twenty-four hours.

The Bird Cannot Build Her Nest


Aristide, bulletproof but weakened. Souce:

Yesterday there were supposed to be a run-off election in Haiti, to decide the country’s next president. The problem is, there was only one candidate.

That’s Jovenel Moïse. He’s known as the “banana man,” for his role as head of Agritrans SA, a company growing bananas set up exclusively for export, destroying the lives of numerous peasant farmers in the process.

He’s also the handpicked successor of the current president, Michel Martelly. The Export Zone where Moise makes his fortune is one of the president’s pet projects. Sweet Micky is head of the PHTK- the Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale – which means “bald head.” It’s a nod to Micky’s shiny dome, but Tèt Kale holds another meaning; to be bareheaded means to go “all the way,” to be pure of heart and thorough in head. When Martelly cried “Tèt Kale!” in 2011 he was calling for a sea change in Haitian politics, an end to the corruption and immobilisation of the past.

Martelly has been no tèt kale, by this measure. He declared Haiti “open for business,” to beaming smiles from the US State Dept., the Clintons, and the myriad of American capital that has looked with desire upon Haiti for over a hundred years. With the international kingmakers satisfied, Martelly has taken a neo-Duvalierist taste for power, cancelling a series of elections to the point that in 2015 there were just 11 elected figures in national politics. There are meant to be 130.

Michel Martelly. Source,

Essentially ruling-by-decree, Martelly welcomes tourists to Haiti’s private beaches and empty hotels, and gets his photo taken with Obama and Kerry whilst surrounded with rumours of corruption, intimidation and violence.

1987 –With ‘dechoukaj’ – the uprooting of Duvalierism – in full swing, the State Dept. decreed that it was time for democracy in Haiti. Reagan sent money in “military aid” to help the process. The guns were turned on Makout and uprooter alike. November would see a president chosen, but the Makouts were not willing to relinquish power yet. By the time the polls were open, two candidates were already dead, slain along with hundreds of demonstrators in a bloody summer. As Haitians lined up to vote, the Makouts and soldiers were waiting, and opened fire. Onlookers struggled to describe the horror. But elections must be held. Two months later, they restarted. The historian Leslie Manigat was the victor, in a poll where the wise stayed indoors. Some things are worth more than casting a vote. (See Michel-Rolph Trouillot – Haiti: State Against Nation)

Sunday became the latest poll to fall foul of Micky’s machete, but this one is a bit different. In November’s 1st round, Jovenel Moise won the day, predictably. The only surprise considering the electoral manipulation, ripped straight out of Dictatorship 101, is that he didn’t get more votes. In second was the centrist Jude Celestin, who recently confirmed he did not want his name on the 2-man run-off ballot. Why would he? The way his elections have gone before, he’d probably finish fourth.

The weeks prior to Sunday saw protests growing, bubbling in the capital, angry at the opaque process, at the lack of representation, at the limpet president clinging to power. There is outrage too at the meddling hands of the “international community. Haitians are mobilising on the streets of Port-au-Prince in support of democracy, and against the sham elections.

They want to restart the process, under a transitional government, without interference and with Martelly put out to pasture. Yesterday, veve of defiance were drawn, and songs of protest sung as Port-au-Prince took to the streets. Some bore the banner of Famni Lavalas, and spoke of finishing the work of Aristide.

1991 – After the drought, comes the flood. Lavalas swept the elections, bringing Liberation Theologist Jean-Bertrande Aristide to power. He was intent on disrupting Haiti’s cavernous inequality gap. But after the dance, the drum was heavy. The elites and the army were not to be disturbed so easily. They tolerated him for seven months, before General Raoul Cédras plucked him from power. If you took a blank piece of paper and drew an authoritarian General it would resemble Cédras. Cue three more years of repression. Whilst Aristide sat on the White House steps, placard in hand, Cédras collected CIA paycheques. (See Robert Fatton, The Roots of Haitian Despotism)

The USA, once again blinded by the belief that elections and democracy might be the same thing, have struggled to comprehend how pro-democracy protests could embrace a cancelled election. The State Dept vaguely urge Martelly to stick to the timetable, thinking an election with one candidate is surely more democratic than an election with none. Last week Ban Ki-Moon too decided to take a stand, and call for the elections to be completed, as he deleted kolera accusations from his @UN inbox.

raoul cedras
This is Raoul Cédras. See what I mean? Source: AP

In the meantime, the Banana Man waits silently for his coronation. East of his plantation lies the near-abandoned industrial park of Caracol, the brainchild of Bill and Hillary Clinton. They are busy up north on their own plans for coronation. Martin O’Malley decided to bring up Haiti in his campaign. He’s currently polling >1%.

1994 – It was called Operation Uphold Democracy. President Clinton had decided to bring Aristide back. He could ignore him no longer. The President’s economic embargos had only made things worse. He could no longer turn a blind eye to the hunger strikes at his door and the Boat People who continued to drift into Key West, dead and alive. The old ally Cédras would be removed, but it was ok, he’d be taken care of. Aristide was brought back to Port-au-Prince, triumphant, accompanied by the drone of Black Hawks and American army boots. Aristide addressed his supporters, declaring the return of democracy from inside a see-thru bulletproof box. A perfect display of powerlessness.

The protests bring back familiar words of the “resistance” and “resilience” of the Haitian people that have bounced around liberal commentaries since the douz janvye earthquake. Y’ap boule. But the image of demonstrations and burning tires are simultaneously deployed by those who wish to preserve the pseudo-democratic status quo. The Organisation of American States, influential in Martelly’s rise, condemned the “acts of violence,” urging a swift end to the crisis. That means swift elections. CEPR observer Jake Johnston wryly notes that here, “the past is prologue.

“Remember: Martelly became president through riots,” warns Jonathan Katz. He’s seen it all before. Was Haiti ready for an election, less than a year after the devastation of the goudougoudou that ripped Port-au-Prince apart? No matter, President Preval’s time was up, elections must be held. Sweet Micky finished third in the first-round of elections, behind law professor Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestin. (Famni Lavalas were banned from participating).

The OAS cried foul – insisting Celestin, an ally of Préval, had stitched up the election, and argued Martelly be parachuted into the runoff in his place. Micky sensed an opportunity, and his supporters took to the streets, promising to set the wounded city on fire if there will be not heeded. Who knows what chicanery had taken place in the backrooms, but it seemed the OAS was fed up of Préval’s unwillingness to play ball. Washington agreed. Hillary Clinton came to town to negotiate with Préval. Celestin’s name disappeared from the ballot. Martlly went on to win the runoff and the presidency. Haiti was now “open for business.”

(See Jonathan Katz – The Big Truck That Went By)

Yesterday, a familiar face returned, to announce that he was “ready for war,” against the “anarchists” on the streets. This man was Guy Philippe, a drug lord and soldier instrumental in the coup that felled Aristide a second time in 2004. Aristide had this time grown distant from the dreams of 1991, instead towing the neoliberal line and holding power increasingly through intimidation. The second coup saw the intervention of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). They’re still there, and along with “stability” one can credit them with the achievements of brutal repression of the slums and the introduction Cholera into the country in 2010. Over 1 million have been infected. 10 000 are dead.

guy philippe
Guy Philippe. Source:

It’s hard to see the way out of this storm of competing interests in Haiti. There is a quest for power involving the traditional elites, the US State Dept., the OAS and the rest of the “international community,” elements of the diaspora and remnants of the army that Tèt Kale were beginning to restore. The old Duvalierists are far from finished. The recent protests are yet another reminder that large swathes of the Haitian population would like to partake in the democratic process. After all, that’s what democracy is supposed to look like, right?.

Robert Fatton calls this “the unending democratic transition.” He continues to be right about that. The bird cannot build her nest.

February 1986 – “Those two weeks interim, when there was no infallible authority on Earth, were the happiest of my life.” David Nicholls resurrected these old words after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier. The protests, led by the ti legliz movement and moving to the sound of Radio Soleil, put the rotund dictator on shaky ground. Reagan decided to pull the plug, and Baby Doc was placed on a plane bound for exile. The monkey’s tail had snapped. Crowds flocked to the airport as old friends returned home after years away. They say that Christopher Columbus himself was uprooted in the flood and cast out to sea.