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6484: Haiti's election was a charade (Miami Herald Dec 27, 2000 , (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

 Published Wednesday, December 27, 2000, in the Miami Herald 


                                    TOPHER LEINBERGER

                   Haiti's election was a charade

                   Last week, the pro-democracy group Global Exchange defended the recent presidential
                   elections in Haiti as being fraud-free, as having involved about 60 percent of the adult
                   population, and of unequivocally bestowing upon Jean-Bertrand Aristide the approbation of
                   his people. The organization then said that these considerations make Haiti compare
                   favorably to the United States on election matters, as there was undeniable fraud in the
                   recent Florida vote. 

                   Although I tend to agree that Haiti's November elections were relatively fraud-free, I reject
                   any comparison between what passes for ``democracy'' in Haiti and the political system in
                   place in most western countries. Haiti is not a full-fledged democracy. Here's why: 

                   Although, as Global Exchange points out, ``irregularities'' were at a minimum, the reason is
                   not that the electoral system does not allow for them. Rather, it was simply not in the
                   Lavalas Party's best interest to stack the decks. The May senatorial elections are now
                   notorious for Lavalas fraud, which gave that party 18 out of 19 seats, though they were held
                   and certified by the same system. 

                   The Lavalas Party leaders are nothing if not smart, and they wouldn't have risked domestic
                   suspicion, international condemnation, the withdrawal of U.S. aid and the disillusionment of
                   the United Nations mission for a 5 percent gain in influence in a Senate already well under
                   Mr. Aristide's thumb. After the senatorial election debacle, the opposition party officially
                   declared its boycott of the presidential elections, in order to save face; there would be no
                   more serious rivals. In fact, the only other presidential candidates besides Aristide were
                   widely thought to have been employed by Aristide himself, so that the whole thing
                   appeared less like the charade it was. 

                   There are three major factors that must be addressed if one is to consider whether Haiti
                   has a true democracy or not: 

                    The voter-turnout percentage cited by Global Exchange: I don't know whether those
                   percentages describe the turnout in relation to (1) the total population of Haiti, or (2) the
                   population of registered voters, but I seriously would doubt the accuracy of the first. No one
                   really knows what the population of Haiti is. Semi-official figures range from 7 million to 13
                   million. That means that, if those percentages are for scenario No. 1, they could be off by
                   as much as 90 percent. If the percentages cited refer to the turnout among registered
                   voters, then they mean relatively little. Many Haitians do not exist officially, according to
                   government records; they are not born in hospitals, have not gone to school and have not
                   had tax-subject jobs. Only four million are registered citizens. 


                         Many voters are either coerced or threatened into voting for Aristide. Trucks and
                        planes make the rounds in politically reluctant or recalcitrant areas, dumping piles
                        of 100 gourde notes in the streets to entice people to come vote. There is much
                        speculation that the string of bombings just prior to the election was the Lavalas
                        Party itself, thus able to kill (literally) two birds with one stone: Aristide got rid of
                        and intimidated potential dissenters, while he also created an atmosphere of
                        violence so that he could come into office to ``set things into order.'' 

                        Also, ballot cards in Haiti are pictorial. One must circle the logo of the party for
                        which one wants to vote, so that the largely illiterate population still can choose.
                        Because the Lavalas Party is the only one wealthy enough to afford ubiquitous
                        publicity, it's no wonder that most illiterate Haitians vote only for Lavalas
                        candidates, having seen their logo everywhere. 


                         When assessing the efficacy of a democracy, the usual benchmark test comes
                        when the party in power must give it up to a newcomer peacefully. I might note that
                        in Haiti, the election did not occur peacefully (a few people were killed by the pipe
                        bombs, and a few by drive-by shootings), and there was no power transfer. The
                        exiting President, René Preval, was not only Lavalas, but essentially Aristide's

                        Therefore, I find it egregious that Global Exchange made a favorable comparison of
                        Haiti's democracy with the United States. There may have been election fraud in the
                        U.S. elections, but (1) there were multiple parties, each with a real chance at the
                        presidency, (2) there was a good-faith effort to repair the damages done, (3) the
                        Democratic Party gracefully conceded. 

                        My guess is that had there existed a real threat to the Aristide-Lavalas dominance,
                        we would have seen a very different drama unfold. 

                        Topher Leinberger is headmaster at the Paradise Academy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.