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6550: Haiti's Presidential Elections: The Other Election Controversy (fwd)

From: radman <resist@best.com>
Haiti's Presidential Elections: The Other Election Controversy

By Amber Lynn Munger

Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city is back to business as usual.  Vendors
crowd the streets during the day and the climate of fear known among
Haitians as the "insecurity" has essentially disappeared.  Much has changed
since the week prior to the Nov 26th elections when  Port-au-Prince's
streets were a virtual ghost town at night and daylight hours were bloated
with fear and tension.    The days before the elections were filled with
bombings and open-machine gunfire on the streets of Port-au-Prince resulting
in the death of two children and the injury of at least 17 others.  The
violence was intended to intimidate the people by reminding them of the 1987
elections, where voters were massacred while standing in line waiting to
cast their votes.  Opposition parties knew that a low voter turnout at the
polls combined with the international boycott could be used to discredit the
election that would undoubtedly result in the victory of Jean Bertrand
Aristide, the favorite of the Haitian masses.  But despite the violence
surrounding the elections and the international boycott, despite the false
reports of low voter turnout issued by opposition parties and the United
States press, the people made their choice.
  As a member of the International Coalition of Independent Observers (ICIO),
I participated in these elections, along with 24 other people from countries
including the United States, Denmark and Canada. Our delegation witnessed
few lines on Election Day; people were aware of the risks involved in voting
and were cautious not to gather at the polls. The Voting Bureau employees at
the 152 voting stations that we monitored made an impressive effort to
ensure fair elections, in some cases going without food or water for the
entire day.  In the four departments where our delegation was present, we
estimated a 64% voter turnout, a participation level much higher than that
of many mature democracies facing fewer difficulties.
  Unfortunately neither the OAS nor the UN were there to witness this
incredible triumph for Haiti's nascent democracy.   The international
community made the decision to boycott the presidential elections as a
result of the controversy surrounding elections that had taken place in May.
These elections were declared "free and fair" by the UN and US observers
that were present on Election Day.  The conflict came after the elections
took place when the OAS condemned the methods used by Haiti's Provisional
Electoral Council (CEP) for calculating winning percentages.  The OAS argued
that 10 senate seats (awarded to Aristide's Lavalas party) should have gone
to a runoff election.  However, the same method had been used by the CEP in
several prior elections with the approval of the OAS. The actions taken by
the OAS to discredit the results of the Haitian elections suggest that the
OAS's objections may be more directly related to the candidates the people
voted for rather than how those votes were calculated.
  Nevertheless, the international community threatened to withhold aid and
observers for Haiti's presidential elections unless the controversy was
resolved.  The OAS entered into unsuccessful negotiations with the Haitian
government, demanding that run-off elections be held for the contested
parliamentary seats.  This action would have postponed Haiti's presidential
elections, and possibly the inauguration of a new president on February 7th,
posing a large threat to the political integrity of the Haitian State.  The
Haitian government refused to compromise the results of a constitutionally
fair election.  As a result, international aid for the presidential election
was withheld as were UN and OAS observers, threatening the legitimacy of the
election. Opposition parties in Haiti, who have little or no popular
support, no organization and no platform aside from being anti-Lavalas, used
the international boycott as an excuse to refrain from participating in the
  The Haitian presidential elections, which took place on November 26th, were
met with much scrutiny and bad press on the international circuit. The US
government made a statement prior to November 26th refusing to recognize the
elections or the presidency of Aristide if he was declared the winner.
Running virtually unopposed, Aristide officially won with 92% of the vote.
The CEP estimated an overall voter turnout of 62% for the entire country,
correlating closely with our ICIO statistics of 64% in the four departments
that we observed.  Yet the United States Press has favored the statistics
suspiciously donated by opposition parties claiming that less than 5% of
eligible voters participated in the election.
  On the night of November 26th elections and for the following three days,
the streets of Port-au-Prince were filled with people celebrating the
victory of Aristide.  After the elections, as our team of observers headed
back to Port-au-Prince from our observation territory in the Artibonite we
had to maneuver through a mass of exulted Haitians playing handmade
instruments, singing, dancing and sporting Lavalas posters and pictures of
Aristide.  Our car sluggishly proceeded through the masses of people
participating in the spontaneous street party.  The enthusiasm for the new
president  was electrifying.  The people had made their choice.
  Yet, in spite of the efforts of the Haitian people to participate in their
own democracy by electing the president of their choice in free and fair
elections, the legitimacy of Aristide's presidency continues to be
contested. Within Haiti, opposition parties have refused to cooperate with
the Lavalas government, ignoring the calls for dialogue set forth by
Aristide in an attempt to resolve the countries political deadlock.  Instead
of trying to resolve the conflict through dialogue, the opposition has taken
to forming a provisional, parallel government to counter the present
government. This parallel government plans to inaugurate itself on February
7th, the date of Aristide's inauguration claiming that "the elections of May
21 and November 26 2000 form part of an electoral coup d'etat organized by
Lavalas."  In the United States, three US Congressional committee chairmen,
including, of course, Jesse Helms, recently released a statement referring
to Haiti's presidential election as a " sham election with the sole purpose
of delivering absolute control over Haiti's government to Mr. Jean-Bertrand
Aristide."  The statement called for the new president-elect to be banned
from the upcoming America's summit in Canada and proceeded to label Lavalas
affiliates as "narco-traffickers, criminals and other anti-democratic
  The aggressive attitude of the US government towards Haiti is unlikely to
change in the near future.  Haiti has openly defied the US and has refused
to yield to its threats for withholding aid. Haiti's defiance of the United
States sends a message to other developing countries that US imperialism
does not have to be tolerated.  If the most powerful country in the Western
Hemisphere is unable to control the poorest, its clear that other countries
are able to do the same.  In recent years, the Haitian government has
established a highly favorable relationship with countries that have shunned
the US agenda, namely Cuba and Venezuela. Haiti is attempting to forge a new
path for democracy independent of US interests. The Aristide government is
in for a long, hard struggle that will hopefully bring about the positive
changes that the Haitian people have waited for.

*The International Coalition of Independent Observers (ICIO) is composed of
Global Exchange, the Haiti Reborn project of the Quixote Center, Pax Christi
USA Haiti Task Force, and Witness for Peace. This coalition of human rigthts
and faith-based social justice organizations has been monitoring elections
in Haiti for over ten years. The ICIO was the only international observation
team in Haiti for the November 26th presidential elections.

Asheville Global Report: www.agrnews.org