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#95: Haiti elections at risk as law stays unsigned (fwd)


Published Monday, July 5, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
Haiti elections at risk as law stays unsigned

By DON BOHNING Herald Staff Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- President Rene Preval on Sunday put national
elections in jeopardy for this year, failing to sign, as promised, a
controversial election law before leaving for a Caribbean summit in
Trinidad. He told local journalists before departing Sunday that he
needed more time to analyze the law and would put off a decision until
after he returned Wednesday.Preval had apparently been pressured by
partisans of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who object to
the Provisional Electoral Council's decisions to elect 19 instead of 17
senators.If the decision to elect 19 senators is reversed, it is
unlikely there will be elections this year, a development many observers
believe Aristide would like to see.The elections, a first round
contemplated for November and a second for December, would be for every
elective position in the country except the presidency and eight Senate
seats. The most important positions at stake are all 83 parliamentary
deputies and the 19 senators.The election scenario is being played out
as the international community's presence in Haiti is heading into a
transition. As a result, elections this year are considered essential to
give some momentum to the country's stalled democratic development.
``Elections in 1999 are critical to establish the democratic framework
for Haiti's entry into the new millennium,'' says U.S. Ambassador Tim
Carney.Even before the negative signal sent by Preval on Sunday, many
here doubted that political, organizational and security problems,
coupled with a general cynicism among Haitians toward elections and
politicians, could be overcome and a credible vote held.

Impasse over senators 

The question of the number of senators is crucial.An ongoing political
impasse began with the April 1997 election of two senators from
Aristide's Lavalas Family party. That vote was seen as flawed, run by a
pro-Aristide electoral council with only a 5 percent voter turnout.
The resulting controversy has left Haiti without a functioning
government, stalled hundreds of million dollars in international aid and
prompted Preval to declare parliament's term at an end in January, when
he could not get a new government approved.In deciding to hold a new
vote for the two disputed senate seats, the electoral council said that
since the senators had never taken their seats and parliament's
term had been declared at an end, the seats were vacant.The council's
decision came despite tremendous pressure from Aristide supporters and,
reportedly, even Preval, to elect only 17, and recognize the two
elected in 1997.Carlo Dupiton, a member of the new council, said in an
interview that the decision on the 19 Senate seats was ``the most
important one for the success of the elections.''It has been nearly five
years since a U.S.-led invasion ousted a military regime and restored
Aristide to the presidency he lost in a 1991 military coup.

Aristide seen as obstacle 

Ironically, the international community now regards Aristide as a major
obstacle to democratic progress in Haiti. Some speculate he is being
obstructionist in part because the international community denied him
the three years he lost in exile after the 1991 coup.Aristide, barred
from succeeding himself in 1995, can run again in 2000 presidential
elections in which he is currently considered a sure winner.He was
succeeded in the presidency by Preval, his former prime minister, to
whose presidential bid he gave only belated and lukewarm
support.Preval's failure to confront Aristide openly has frustrated many
within the international community.``The time for a showdown has come,''
says a senior foreign diplomat. ``If Aristide opposes elections, make
him show his hand now, not in six months.``But what can you expect from
a government that refuses to take difficult decisions on democratic
development because the president is afraid of what he perceives as
Aristide's ability to bring people into the streets?''Almost daily and
often violent street protests over the past two months have been
linked to Aristide by both diplomats and Haitians. That includes the
breakup by agitators of a May 28 private-sector demonstration against
violence by several thousands as police stood by and did nothing.

Political stability essential 

``If the President doesn't fulfill his role, there's no way anybody can
help turn things around,'' adds the senior diplomat. ``You've got to
have political stability for investor and social and economic
development.''There is a general belief among foreign diplomats that
Aristide would prefer that parliamentary elections be delayed until the
2000 presidential vote in which the coattail effect would presumably
assure him a larger parliamentary majority.``I don't think Aristide
wants elections [this year],'' says another foreign diplomat.
``If you know you can win free, fair, internationally accepted
elections, why blow the chance of that respectability?''So far, Aristide
and his Family Lavalas party have taken an ambivalent public
position on participating in the elections.``We would hope that
elections are held, but at the same time we can't help but
question the reality,'' party spokesman Yvon Neptune said in an
interview. ``If times were different, it would be easy to tell, but when
you look at things up close, there are so many things necessary in terms
of organizing elections, it is difficult to tell.''In the meantime, says
Neptune, the party will continue organizing in anticipation of
democratic elections.