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6528: Response to Leinberger on elections and Global Exchange (fwd)

From: "Melinda Miles, Haiti Reborn" <mmiles76@yahoo.com>

Topher Leinberger got a number of his facts wrong in
?Haiti?s election was a charade,? published in the
Miami Herald on December 27. First of all, Global
Exchange did not act alone in its reports on the
Haitian elections. Global Exchange was one of four
organizations which comprised the International
Coalition of Independent Observers (ICIO), the others
were Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center, Pax Christi USA
Haiti Task Force and Witness for Peace. The members of
the ICIO were all self-financed volunteers and the
ICIO is independent of all government and
international structures.

Leinberger questions the validity of the ICIO report
about the November 26, 2000 elections in Haiti. As a
co-coordinator and the spokesperson of the Coalition I
am pleased to answer the points raised in his opinion
piece. The ICIO did declare that although we witnessed
minor irregularities throughout the process there was
no widespread evidence of major problems for
registered voters. The ICIO had four groups of
observers deployed in four departments, so our
observations were not at a national level. The
national observer group, KOZEPÈP deployed nearly 6,000
observers throughout Haiti. This group has also
declared the elections to be relatively free and fair.

The reports of both the ICIO and KOZEPÈP support the
official statements of Haiti?s Electoral Council,
which has stated that slightly over 60% of the
registered voters participated in this election. The
ICIO stated estimates that varied from 30-90% by
location. Because we were not nationally deployed we
do not assume to have the information necessary to
make a national estimate. KOZEPÈP, however, was able
to do so, and their estimate was 60-65% voter turn

Let me be clear that estimates of voter participation
from the ICIO, KOZEPÈP and the Haitian Electoral
Council are all based on the number of registered
voters who participated in the election. Estimates of
how many adult Haitians who were eligible to register
from the Electoral Council as well as the Organization
of American States and the International Foundation
for Election Systems (a U.S.-based agency that offered
technical assistance to the May 2000 elections) and
were approximately 4.2 million. Of these, it was
estimated that more than 95% actually received voter
identification cards during the March registration
drive. May estimates of voter turn out stated an over
60% showing at the polls.

Leinberger notes that many Haitians are not officially
registered as citizens. It is important to note that
in order to receive a voter identification card
Haitians were required to prove their identity in one
of two ways: (1) Presenting official documentation of
birth or citizenship, or (2) Presenting two witnesses
who could attest to one?s identity. By this second
method no Haitian was excluded from registering
because they were not officially recognized as a
citizen prior to the registration drive.

To return to the November elections, based on first
hand observation it was clear to all the members of
the ICIO that one candidate, Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
was the overwhelming choice of voters in all locations
attended by the ICIO. We have no reason to doubt the
results released by the Haitian Electoral Council as
they do not conflict with what we observed on the
ground in Haiti. These results state that Aristide
received 2.6 million votes, or 91.69%.

I was personally in Haiti both in October and before
the elections in November and at no time did I see
money being offered to voters by any party. There was
no evidence that money was being dropped from the sky,
but we did witness Lavalas Party propaganda
distributed by plane. There was no campaigning by the
official opposition coalition, but the other
candidates on the ballot for November 26 appeared on
television regularly the week of the elections.

The rash of pipe bombs found in Port-au-Prince,
particularly on Wednesday, November 22 were noted by
the ICIO. Any speculation as to the intent of these
bombings is indeed purely speculation, but it was our
observation that the bombings were intended to
intimidate voters from participating in the elections.
If this is true, we need only to look toward the
enemies of the democratic process to find suspects. It
seems ridiculous to insinuate that the Lavalas Family
party would perpetrate a crime that would diminish
voter participation at an election that was already
struggling for legitimacy in the eyes of the
international community. In light of the opposition
boycott it was very important to have voter turn out
high enough to legitimize the electoral process. To
whose benefit is voter intimidation? Certainly not
Aristide?s. If we would like to know who is
responsible for the bombings we should look to the
Haitian National Police for information. According to
Haitian television, 19 suspects were arrested for the
pipe bombs on November 25. The investigation is still
in process.

The ballots in both the May and the November elections
are indeed pictorial, and voters have to mark an ?X?
below the photograph and symbol of the candidate they
choose. However, I am appalled that Leinberger would
suggest that illiteracy in any way equals political
naivety or stupidity. The people of Haiti are
perfectly capable of choosing the candidates they want
to represent them, whether or not that candidate?s
symbol was the most popular on the streets. The idea
that ?most illiterate Haitians? simply voted for the
candidate who had their logo everywhere rather than
making an informed decision based on their own
political experience and will is an insult that should
have the Haitian community on its feet. Illiteracy is
indeed a problem in Haiti, but illiterate people can
think and make decisions, too.

Mr. Leinberger?s final comments refer to his personal
benchmarks for judging democracies. He states that the
first of these is the ability of parties to ?give up
power to a new comer peacefully.? It is important to
note that the parliament prior to the May elections
was not a Lavalas majority. In fact, the parliament
was so polarized that President Preval had been
prevented from successfully appointing a prime
minister for years. This parliament had one important
job to accomplish before their terms expired in
January of 1999, and that was to hold elections to
fill their places. This would have been a peaceful
transfer of power. They did not, and as a result their
terms expired and there was more than one year of
parliamentary void. 

After the May elections a controversy ensued which is
not about ?notorious Lavalas fraud? as Leinberger
alleges but rather a disagreement about what
calculation method is appropriate for an election with
a Constitutional irregularity. Negotiations were held
in October and were chaired by the Organization of
American States. The intent of the meetings was to
reach a compromise between the Lavalas Family party
and the opposition about the opposition?s intention to
boycott the November elections. But when offered
concessions by Lavalas that included an independent
commission to investigate the May elections, the
opposition refused to compromise and continued to
stand firm on its boycott. 

Leinberger?s opinion on Global Exchange and the
Haitian elections lacked factual basis in several
areas. I encourage him and anyone interested to visit
the ICIO website on the Haiti Reborn webpage:
www.quixote.org/haiti/elections. It includes
background information on the ICIO as well as the
report of KOZEPÈP.

Melinda Miles
Coordinator, Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center
Co-Coordinator, International Coalition of Independent

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