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#4326: CIP's Morrell on the Elections (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

>From the Center on International Policy (CIP)
June 20, 2000

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

By James R. Morrell

Last May 21, the majority of the Haitian electorate
went to the polls in an impressive, dignified manner and
delivered former president Aristide's Lavalas party a
massive popular mandate. Election day was virtually
violence-free and OAS observers reported few irregularities.
At last, after the years of political confusion, one party
would have the legislature and presidency and the
governmental gridlock would be over.

All President Aristide's party had to do was savor their
outright wins in eight of the seventeen senate races,
waltz in to victory in the runoffs, and enjoy the squeals
of their opponents.

But such patience was beyond them. They immediately
made three critical mistakes which robbed their electoral
win of legitimacy:

-- Reviving an old Duvalierist practice, they had the police
round up thirty of their most prominent losing opponents
on questionable charges. The OAS and United Nations
protested, but eleven are still in custody.

-- In their haste to seize control of the senate they defied
an OAS injunction to count all the votes and just counted
the top four vote-getters in determining the winning
percentage of the Lavalas candidates. By cutting off the
count there, they could declare sixteen of their candidates
winners on the first round, rather than the eight who would
win counting all the votes.

-- When the neutral head of the electoral commission,
Léon Manus, also insisted on counting all the votes, they
threatened his life and forced him to flee on June 17 to the
United States.

Two other members of the nine-person electoral
commission belonging to other parties also resigned.

On June 16 and 19, Aristide's mobs were on the streets
burning tires. His supporters threatened on the radio
and TV that if the results were not announced by that
afternoon, they would burn and loot as never before.

All of the above was accompanied by vitriolic, emotional
denunciations of the OAS for "interfering" with Haiti's
electoral process. But it was the Haitian government who
invited the OAS to come in the first place to insure a
credible process.

In this case all the OAS did, after commending Haiti for
its terrific election day, was ask the government to follow
its own law. The United States and United Nations have
both supported the OAS's stand. For this the OAS is under
heavy attack from the Aristide sector and if the threats are
carried out, the OAS will soon have to follow the electoral
chief on his route out of the country.

Together the arrests, the manipulation of the count, and
the threats to the election chief have canceled out the
moral victory that Aristide gained by his sweep of the May 21
vote. The Haitian people did their part. They walked miles
to the rural stations and stood in line for hours to render
their vote. Eleven thousand poll workers each painstakingly
counted two thousand ballots by hand in the morning and
again at night. By candlelight into the wee hours of the
morning, the vote counters held up each ballot in plain view
of the party representatives and poll watchers so that all
could see that the count was accurate.

Why should Aristide so overplay his hand when he already
had the votes to win? Because fundamentally, as the
Haitian sociologist Franklin Midy noted last year, he does
not accord any legitimacy to the opposition (although most
of the opposition are former Aristide allies). He sees Haitian
politics as a winner-takes-all game. The opposition is to be
crushed by any means necessary.

The results present the United States with a classic no-win
situation. The U.S. government would like the stability offered
by one party's clear win, but it can scarcely approve an election
that neither the OAS nor the election chief endorsed. On June
19 the State Department called on Haiti to complete the count
in accordance with its election law. Meanwhile, Haiti's rump
electoral commission declared the sixteen Lavalas senatorial
candidates winners on the first round on the basis of the
partial count.

James R. Morrell is director of research at the
Center for International Policy
and observed Haiti's May 21, 2000 elections for the OAS.