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#4382: Haitian elections leave U.S. in sticky position (fwd)


Haitian elections leave U.S. in sticky position 
Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board   Web-posted: 7:33 p.m. June 21, 2000

Haiti's transition to democracy has been anything but a smooth ride.
This week the process swerved toward anarchy. Mobs in Port-au-Prince
rioted over delays in the announcement of  election results, prompting
electoral chief Leon Manus to flee the country for his life.           
These events have driven international confidence in Haiti's         
electoral system to a new low. Runoff elections scheduled for          
Sunday have been postponed until at least mid-July. This means        
Haiti will spend more time without a working Parliament, which    
prevents it from accessing about $500 million in foreign aid and       
loans.In short, Haiti's political and economic life is in a mess.      
But it would be a mistake to conclude that Haitians aren't interested in
building a democracy. More than 60 percent of the electorate went to the
polls last month to vote for municipal and parliamentary candidates.
This is the largest election turnout ever in Haiti.Most international
observers say the elections were open and  fair. It is what happened
before and after the vote that has  given them pause. Haiti has been
without a constitutional government for 18  months since President Rene
Preval dissolved Parliament and  began ruling by decree. Preval took
this step after the Haitian  Parliament refused to confirm several of
his candidates for prime  minister, and paralyzed his administration. 
Preval promised new elections but postponed them several times because
of problems in the voting system. Opposition leaders, however, charge
that his real reason for delaying the  vote was to please former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is expected to run for president
this year. Many of his critics say  Aristide, who is favored to win, is
determined to build an  authoritarian one-party state.Still, Lavalas won
a majority of legislative and municipal seats on May 21. Outside
observers don't dispute this. They do have problems with the way Haitian
officials counted the votes.The electoral council counted all the
ballots cast and then discarded all but the top four vote-getters in
each race. The count gave at least eight of 17 Senate seats to Aristide
candidates who would otherwise have faced runoff elections on Sunday,
according to international observers.More troubling is the violence
reported among Aristide supporters who have been burning tire barricades
and throwing  rocks at vehicles to protest delays in the certification
of election results.Aristide and other Lavalas leaders do not need mob
violence or vote tampering to get elected. The party has a mandate from
the voters. It also has a moral obligation to set an example for      
compromise, respect for the rule of law and tolerance for the       
opposition. Haiti's opposition also has a poor record in the art of
compromise and concessions. Extreme political feuding is what could
return Haiti to an era of dictators. All this leaves the United States
in a bind over how to respond. It would be a mistake to condemn Haiti's
election, but accept a recent presidential vote in Peru that gave
Alberto  Fujimori what many consider an illegal third term in office.But
Washington, which returned Aristide to power in 1994 after a military
coup, doesn't have to help finance any more Haitian elections. It
shouldn't until the country moves closer to  democracy.