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#4310: Legitimacy of Haitian election questioned (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Legitimacy of Haitian election questioned

Web-posted: 12:13 a.m. June 20, 2000

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The legitimacy of nationwide elections, whose
results were finally made public late Monday after being withheld for nearly
a month, continue to be called into question by Haitian and international
    Although the results show an overwhelming victory in municipal and
legislative races by the ruling Lavalas Party, led by former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, their credibility was challenged by the
international community and the president of Haiti's Provisional Electoral
Council, who fled the country in fear of his life over the weekend.
    Leon Manus, 78, a respected jurist, fled the country rather than give in
to pressure from President Rene Preval to sign off on incorrect results
giving Aristide candidates a chokehold on the government. The May 21
elections were considered crucial for restoring this country's battered
economy and political system and gaining international recognition.
    Manus went into hiding Friday, and on Saturday he and his wife drove
across the border into Santo Domingo, en route to Miami. A spokesman at the
State Department confirmed Monday that Manus had been admitted to the United
States and would be going to Boston to live with his sister.
   Manus' refusal to endorse the results came on top of complaints by
Organization of American States electoral observers of irregularities in the
counting of the votes in the Senate races.
    "The questions by the OAS and now the flight of the president of the
electoral council leave these elections with no legitimacy whatsoever," said
James Morrell, research director of the Center for International Policy in
Washington, D.C. "I can't see how the U.S. and the European Union are going
to accept these results, as much as they may want to."
    "We have now left the area of electoral politics and entered into a
national political crisis," said Micha Gaillard, a candidate for mayor of
Port-au-Prince with the opposition party Espace de Concertation. "Haitian
political leaders of all parties need to sit down and deal with this
worsening situation, because if they don't, there are bound to be serious
repercussions in all areas."
    On Friday and again on Monday morning, followers of Aristide took to the
main arteries of the capital and burned tires and threw rocks, shutting down
most vehicular traffic and government and business offices. The road to the
airport was shut down, and most international flights were canceled.
    Among other locations, protesters once again made a target of the U.S.
Embassy in Port-au-Prince, burned a U.S. flag and shouted slogans against
the OAS electoral observers and the U.S. government, which has supported the
observers' criticisms.
    The announcement of the results Monday is expected to help the capital
return to normal.
    A good part of the reason behind the delays was the dispute between the
OAS and the electoral council over counting the votes for the 27-member
    Of the 17 races in which votes have been counted, Lavalas claimed
first-round victories in 16 races, whereas the OAS team gave them seven.
Results released late Monday confirmed Lavalas' estimates. Under Haitian
law, candidates must win a majority to avoid a second round of voting. But
officials counted the votes of only the top four contenders and not the
others who ran and may have gotten a few votes. Those missing votes created
an erroneous winning percentage count, observers claim.
    Election officials also confirmed Monday that the monthlong delay in
counting the votes made it impossible to hold run-off elections on Sunday as
scheduled. An election official said the second round would likely be held
in mid-July.
   Monday morning, Luciano Pharaon, director of operations for the electoral
council, brushed aside the arguments and objections raised by the OAS. "The
council is the only legitimate authority on this matter," he said.
    Yet the legitimacy of the elections, particularly in the eyes of the
international community, is essential if Haiti is to climb out of the
political and economic hole it has been in for approximately three years.
    "If Haiti can't establish the legitimacy of the elections, the same
problems will continue to plague the country for the foreseeable future,"
Morrell said.
    Feuds between Preval, a close associate of Aristide, and the opposition
in parliament have paralyzed the national government for more than three
years. Preval disbanded parliament about 18 months ago and has been ruling
by decree since.
    An estimated $500 million in international loans and other aid have been
held up for nearly three years, pending the resolution of the political
crisis. Foreign investment and tourism also have dried up, plunging this
wretchedly poor country into a deep economic crisis.
   That crisis is pushing increasing number of desperate Haitians to flee to
the neighboring Dominican Republic, other Caribbean islands or the United
    One of the most puzzling aspects of the electoral dispute is that OAS
observers and some opposition figures agree that Aristide remains very
popular, particularly among the poor, and that Lavalas would have won in any
    "Lavalas won most of the seats in parliament, but not by the 40 percent
margins they claim," said Hannah Taylor, spokeswoman for the OAS team in
    "The ironic part of these power plays by Lavalas is that they would have
won fair and square," said Morrell. "But they don't want to just win. They
want to obliterate the opposition."
   Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.