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#4635: Analysis of recent events in Haiti (fwd)

From: Reginald Verdieu <marxengels@hotmail.com>

Mr. Corbett My name is Reginald Verdieu, I am the Haiti program intern at 
the Center for International Policy, can you please forward this to the 
list, this article can also accessed at our website www.ciponline.org.

The political actors in Haiti, by refusing to play by the rules, risk 
damaging the democratic process.
By Reginald Verdieu


In order for a society to function properly, in a democracy, all of its 
political actors, internal and external, have to bw willing to accept the 
limitations of such a political system. They must all be willing to make 
compromises. The ruling parties have to allow opposition groups to compete 
freely and fairly for the right to rule, especially in the electoral 
process. The losers of any election need to accept the results as gracefully 
as possible. External actors need to respect the decisions of the internal 
actors. The current political situation in Haiti is the result of what 
happens when the political actors are not ready nor willing to obey these 

Historical Overview

Since his return to the presidency of Haiti in 1994, after three years in 
exile in the United States as result of a military coup d?etat, Jean 
Bertrand Arisitide and the Fanmi Lavalas (FL) party have manipulated the 
political process in order to ensure the continuing dominance of his party. 
Aristide was succeeded in 1995 by one of his close allies, Rene Preval, who 
continued Aristide?s policy of manipulation.

Preval enjoyed neither the popularity of his predecessor nor the political 
savvy needed to be an effective leader in Haiti. Thus resulting in his 
inability to consolidate power in the Parliament. Finding it impossible to 
work with the legislative body he dissolved it in January of 1999 and has 
been governing by presidential decree ever since.

The dissolution of Parliament resulted in one of the worse economic 
situations that Haiti has ever experienced, many have said that the 
situation is worse than the one they faced during the U.N./OAS embargo of 
the early 1990?s. For by shutting down parliament Preval had effectively cut 
off $500 million of international aid to Haiti. According to Haitian laws 
international funds can only be budgeted by the Parliament.

Preval, after incessant pressure from national and international 
organizations to hold parliamentary elections, appointed a bi-partisan 
Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in order to plan for local and national 
elections. The CEP contained two representatives from the opposition party, 
Espace de Concertation (ESPACE), and a non-partisan President, Leon Manus, 
but the CEP faced constant pressure to abide to the wishes of their boss. 
Preval made it clear from the beginning that he was intent on influencing 
the decisions of the CEP. One of his boldest moves was the expulsion of the 
International Foundation for Election Systems? advisor to the CEP, Micheline 
Begin, from the country.

Preval and the CEP could not agree on a date for the elections, on several 
occasions Preval postponed the elections claiming that more time was needed 
to efficiently plan them. It was to the advantage of the Lavalas party to 
postpone the elections for two reasons. The delay allowed the Lavalas party 
to continue a very effective voter registration campaign, many of the 
Lavalas supporters are from the lower class and do not completely understand 
the electoral process and did not register until late in the process. It 
also allowed the elections to be held closer to the presidential debates in 
which former president Aristide will be a candidate. Aristide is still the 
most popular politician in Haiti and is the overwhelming favorite to win the 
Presidential elections that are scheduled for later this year. The Lavalas 
party hoped to delay the local and parliamentary elections in order to ride 
Aristide?s coat-tails to victories.

The Elections

The Elections were finally held on May 21, 2000. The Lavalas Family won the 
elections by a land slide, opposition parties made immediate claims of 
fraud, their claims were overshadowed by international observers who began 
to report that the May 21, 2000 elections were the best that they had ever 
observed in Haiti. The claims of fraud began to gain credibility, however, 
after the national police arrested or harassed some of the more vocal 
members of the opposition. This seemed to be a concerted effort by the 
government to either shut them up or thwart their efforts in the run-offs 
that were planned three weeks later. Most of the charges that were brought 
up against these people were later dropped. Human rights groups quickly 
condemned these methods of intimidation. The situation was further 
complicated by the Organization of American States (OAS)?s announcement on 
May 31, 2000 that the elections were flawed. They stated that the CEP only 
tabulated the votes of the top four vote getters, violating Haiti?s 
constitutional law which states that a candidate can only be declared the 
winner of the first round by winning fifty percent of all of the votes plus 
one. The OAS suggested that the CEP recount all of the votes in order to 
comply with the electoral law.

The OAS suggestion was supported by most other international observer 
groups, the United States, and most of the opposition groups in Haiti, 
casting serious doubts on the legitimacy of the elections. The CEP defended 
its results by stating that as the only body legally charged with 
administering elections in Haiti its decisions concerning the elections 
cannot be challenged by any other bodies, especially an international 
organization such as the OAS. The Preval administration also supported the 
results since they gave the Lavalas party an overwhelming majority in the 
Senate and at least one fourth of the seats in the house of deputies.

The Aftermath

This created a very interesting power struggle, which included at least six 
actors, with the OAS, the international community, and Haiti?s opposition 
parties on one side and the CEP, Preval and the Lavalas party on the other. 
Those that supported the OAS demanded that the CEP change their tabulation 
methodology and those that supported the CEP wanted the result to remain as 

As an observer the OAS does not have any decision-making powers and can 
merely give suggestions. Their power comes from their reputation as credible 
independent observer and the ability to grant legitimacy to any process that 
they take part in. Thus it was important for the OAS to stand firm by their 
decision that the May 21, 2000 elections were flawed and should be 
re-counted. They essentially gave Haiti an ultimatum to either change their 
methodology be in agreement with the 1999 provisional law or they will no 
longer participate in the electoral process in Haiti which would greatly 
damage the credibility of the CEP in the eyes of the international 

The United States has given the OAS a much needed endorsement. They not only 
released a statement in support of the OAS, but the U.S. state department 
has hinted that President Bill Clinton?s administration might not recognize 
a legislative body that was elected as a result of the May 21, 2000 
elections. The U.S. Senate has urged the Clinton administration to take 
tougher measures against the Preval administration. France, Canada, and the 
United Nations have also granted their support to the OAS.

A large majority of the opposition parties supported the OAS their 
announcement on May 31, 2000. They have published many statements denouncing 
the elections and further highlighted the irregularities of the elections, 
they pleaded to the international community to pressure the Haitian 
government for a recount. The two representatives of ESPACE resigned from 
the, thus increasing the polarization of parties.

The CEP, as the authoritative voice concerning electoral laws, thought that 
it would blemish its prestige at home if it followed the suggestions of the 
OAS. They asserted that the OAS was trying to undermine the democratic 
process in Haiti. Claiming that their methodology remained true to the 
electoral law. For although the law demands that a candidate must win 50% 
plus one, it does not explain how to reach this 50% in an election when more 
than one Senate position is open in each departmental race. Furthermore, 
their methodology was consistent with previous senatorial elections in which 
they had to fill numerous seats in one election.

Under normal conditions (which is a rarity in Haiti) Haitians would elect, 
every two years, one-third of the senate to six year terms. However, since 
the senate had been inactive for almost two years sans any new elections, 
the CEP had to fill the seats of two thirds of the senate.

They claim that if they had counted all of the votes then divide them into 
two and then treat each half as though they were one, as the OAS suggested, 
it would have made it mathematically impossible for any candidate to gain 
fifty percent plus one as demanded by the law. Thus, they chose a method 
that would preserve the intent of the law even though it might be violating 
it in the literal sense. The CEP also tried to gain the support of Haitians 
by appealing to their nationalistic side. They stated on numerous occasions 
that Haitians and not the international community should solve Haiti?s 

Preval and FL members, in an effort to capitalize on the election results, 
supported the CEP and further fueled the nationalistic arguments. 
Protesters, who professed to be supporters of FL, twice during a four day 
period, staged violent protests that caused all businesses in the capital to 
shut down. They demanded that the CEP version of the election results be 
made official or they will continue to protest until their demand is met. 
During the same period of the President of the CEP, Leon Manus, who 
initially scolded the OAS for demanding a re-tabulation but later changed 
his mind to conform to the OAS? suggestions, fled to the United States. In a 
public statement Mr. Manus stated "At the top governmental level unequivocal 
messages were transmitted to me on the consequences that would follow if I 
refused to publish the false final results."

The CEP and Preval defied the OAS and the rest of the international 
community by making the May 21 election results official and holding a 
second round of elections on July 9,2000. The elections were boycotted by 
opposition groups, the OAS and the rest of the international observers. The 
second round of elections was further tarnished by a low voter turn out. The 
result of the Haitian government?s defiant stance remains to be seen. One 
thing we do know for sure is that the recent debates over the May 21, 2000 
elections has been a devastating blow to the future of democracy in Haiti.


Democracy cannot exist without the support of the populace. Since the 
departure of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986 the people of Haiti has made it 
clear that they want a democratic government and have done their part to 
achieve that goal. Democracy hasn?t been beneficial for most Haitians 
however, as political bickering has resulted in a decrease in the quality of 
life of most Haitians. Their discontent was apparent in the run offs in 
which in some regions less than 10% of the registered voters participated, 
as opposed to the 60% that participated in the first round. I am worried 
that if things don?t improve in Haiti the people will no longer support 
democracy in Haiti.

All concerning parties need to remember that democracy is a difficult 
process, especially during the early stages, and that there is not an ideal 
model for democracy but many different forms, none of which are perfect. The 
current idealistic model of democracy that most political actors want to 
apply in Haiti is threatening the democratic process. I have heard people in 
Haiti, too often, say "why can?t our country be more like the other 
democratic countries in the region." This way of thinking is dangerous for 
these people are not looking at the situation in Haiti in a historical 
context. In most of the countries that Haiti is being compared to, if they 
look back far enough, they will find situations analogous to the current 
situation in Haiti. They should Instead be channeling their energy into 
trying to figure out an effective Haitian model of democracy and stop trying 
to duplicate models that have worked in other countries.

Similarly, The opposition parties, instead of constantly complaining to the 
international community about the abuses of the Lavalas regime and looking 
for them to solve their problems, need to focus on how they can better 
strengthen themselves in order to become a viable threat to the ruling 
party. The international community needs to allow the opposition parties the 
chance to learn the political game on their own. This is not to say that 
they cannot play a role in the strengthening of civil society in Haiti, but 
they need to avoid being used by the opposition parties to disrupt the 
political process.

All parties need to figure out how to make the process work, the longer that 
the quarreling continues the more the people will grow nostalgic of the 
Duvalier era when even though they might not have had as many freedoms as 
they do now but the country was more stable, and the economic situation was 
better for most. The international community and the opposition parties need 
to be careful not to create a situation in Haiti that would make it possible 
for the people to reject democracy and embrace Aristide or some other 
populist leader as a benevolent dictator.

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