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#5134: CIP: "Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory" (fwd)
From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>
Haiti's Aristide Had the Votes to Win, Yet Cheated and
So Drained His Win of Legitimacy
By James R. Morrell(1)
On May 21, 2000 the majority of the Haitian electorate went to the polls
in an impressive, dignified manner and delivered former president
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party a massive popular mandate.
Election day was virtually violence-free and OAS observers reported few
irregularities. At last, after the years of political confusion, one
party would have the legislature and presidency and the governmental
gridlock would be over.
It was possible to imagine Haiti emerging with a fully legitimate
government able at last to collect hundreds of millions of aid reserved
for it by the World Bank and some twenty bilateral aid donors.
But alas, it was not to be. Not content with merely winning, Aristide
had his supporters on the electoral commission rig the count in order to
deliver first-round victories to all nineteen senatorial candidates, of
whom eighteen belonged to his Lavalas Family party. They did this by
stopping the counting of senatorial votes at the first four top
contenders, thereby contracting the field by a quarter to a third and
bumping up the percentages of the front-runners so they could claim an
outright majority. By cutting off the count there they unapologetically
discarded some 1.1 to 1.2 million votes cast for opposition candidates
-- between 25 to 35 percent of the total.
On May 31 the OAS electoral mission pointed out the fraudulent procedure
and called on the electoral commission to count all the votes before
proceeding to the second round.
The commission president, Léon Manus, at first resisted. He sent a
letter back denouncing the OAS mission for interfering. But then he
changed his mind and did a recount. His recount found that only five,
not sixteen, of the Lavalas senatorial candidates had won on the first
round. The rest would have to go to a runoff election. When Manus made
ready to announce these findings, he was summoned to the presidential
palace by President René Préval. There both Préval in person and former
president Aristide, by telephone, made forceful statements which Manus
took as threats to his life. Aided by the United States and other
foreign embassies, Manus escaped to the Dominican Republic and the
The OAS mission, finding the first-round results to be biased, refused
to observe the imposed second round. The United States, European Union,
United Nations, and Caricom all condemned the procedure. On July 13,
2000 the Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for an aid
cutoff until Haiti held free and fair elections.
The above has been widely reported. In this report, to demystify the
counting question, we reproduce a senatorial return exactly as issued by
the CEP in June using the bogus percentage calculation. This return is
from the Département du Nord'est. It shows there were 132,613 votes cast
for the two senatorial positions. The constitution and electoral law say
you win outright on the first round if you get 50 percent plus one of
the votes cast. Since two senatorial positions were up and people could
vote for each senator, divide the 132,613 senatorial votes in half and
you get 66,307 votes cast per senator. The constitutional 50 percent
plus one of this is 33,154 -- that's how much you need to win on the
first round. Referring to the chart, both Lavalas Family candidates are
declared winners on the first round even though they got 32,969 and
30,736 votes respectively.
Chart Exactly As Issued by CEP
RESULTATS DES ELECTIONS DU 21 MAI 2000
Prenom,Nom Parti Total %
AMOS, ANDRE MOCHRENA 3,201
ABRAHAM, BONHOMME MOCHRENA 3,427
JOSE JOSEPH, DANIEL IND (fourth) 11,305 24.85%
JUDNEL, JEAN Espace 6,459
PHILOME F., JEAN-LOUIS OPL 11,082
ARMAND,JOACHIM OPL (third) 15,966 35.10%
JEAN RODOLPHE,JOAZILE Fanmi Lav.(first) 32,969 72,48%
ARGAIS,JOSEPH IND 5,547
LUNICE,MATHIEU MPSN 1,456
GERARD,PIERRE Espace 6,703
LUCIEN D., PIERRE-LOUIS Fanmi Lav.(second) 30,736 67,57%
EMMANUEL, TINORD Tet Ansanm 3,762
To get their candidates over the top, the manipulators added up the
votes received by the top four finishers (90,976), divided that by half
to get 45,488, and divided the votes received by the two Lavalas
contenders (32,969 and 30,736) by that 45,488 to come up with 72.47 and
67.56 winning percentages respectively.
The above assumes everyone voted twice since there were two senators. A
certain number of voters, one out of five perhaps, only voted for one
senator. Then divide the total 132,613 senatorial votes by 1.7 and you
get 78,008 divided by two equals 39,004 -- an even higher threshold for
winning on the first round.
The above spreadsheet is for only one department; an examination of the
other departments confirms exactly the same procedure was used.
On June 14, 2000 electoral commission workers ran the percentages in the
manner the law requires, i.e., counting all the votes, and found that in
the above department no one won on the first round; in the country
overall, nine won on the first round. If the number of voters who only
voted for one senator is factored in, the number winning on the first
round diminishes further toward the five reported by election
commissioner Manus. The Center for International Policy has posted the
returns issued by these election workers on its website,
Both sets of returns show that the CEP all along had the full returns
available from which to do a full count. The returns are on a
spreadsheet and the total votes are summed, so it is not a question of
any extra work to count all the votes. The decision to cut off at the
first four was purely political -- imposed by the executive branch,
presumably through the counting office (directorate of operations)
headed by Luciano Pharaon, although the personalities involved will no
doubt dispute this.
For a while into June the counting office, sometimes alone and sometimes
with some commissioners' signatures, issued returns based on the
top-four method, but by June 22 when it came time for the president of
the CEP, Manus, to sign off on the definitive returns, he had convinced
himself that the method was wrong and refused to do so; rather he was
preparing to issue the right figures. Then President Préval and
ex-president Aristide issued their threats and Manus fled.
In the races for the lower chamber, there was only one deputy being
chosen per district and so no way to do a top-finisher cutoff as was
done for senators. Even the manipulators found no way to avoid counting
all the votes there. In the deputy races, only about one-third won on
the first round -- about the same as would have won in the senate if the
votes had been fairly counted.
Why did Aristide steal so flagrantly when he had the votes to win? This
report explores three lines of explanation. First, in the interest of
balance, it briefly revisits the Aristide partisans' denial of fraud.
Then it explores the pragmatic reasons that might have driven Aristide
to cheat to make his win absolutely sure. But third, since he clearly
had the votes to win anyway, it it considers cultural and psychological
What of the fallout? Is the situation is reversible or must Haiti and
the world submit to a fait accompli? And finally, what does it all means
for the fate of Haiti's long-suffering poor? These question are briefly
considered at the end of this essay.
I. Why cheat when you don't have to?
There were numerous fraudulent elections in the century just ending, but
the perpetrator of this one was restored by twenty-two thousand American
troops under United Nations aegis to instill democracy. The gratuitous
cheating in this election seems almost calculated to inflame
international opinion and assure Haiti's isolation.
There is no doubt that the sheer scale of support for the Lavalas Family
party virtually guaranteed Aristide's reelection and a healthy majority
in parliament. Most of the Lavalas Family candidates who were not
winning outright in the first round were front-runners, poised to win
the runoff. The fact is that the murky results mean that the government
will lack legitimacy in the eyes of Haitians and foreigners alike.
Observers have advanced three main explanations for this seemingly
The de-facto Haitian government and its defenders abroad deny that any
fraud took place. They contend that this was the same procedure as used
in 1990, without objection by election observers. They maintain that it
only discounted marginal candidates who got a small number of votes.
However, the International Foundation for Election Systems and
commissioners from the 1990 electoral commission deny that any such
short-counting was done in that election and most candidates had to go
to the second round. The OAS also contends that the number of votes so
dropped in 2000 was anything but small, rather it was 1.2 million --
which if so would be roughly a quarter to a third of all the votes cast
in senatorial races.
U.S. assistant secretary of state Peter Romero and U.S. special envoy
for Haiti Donald Steinberg said that the State Department had carefully
researched whether a similar method was used in Haiti's 1990, 1995, and
1997 elections and concluded that it had not; so clearly not, Ambassador
Steinberg said, that it was "not even debatable." In any event, the 1999
electoral law superseded earlier law and precedents.
The only rationale for not counting all the ballots in the first round
in some race in 1990 might have been the following: if one cannot get a
majority out of the top four or six contenders, then why bother to count
the rest? In 2000 the purpose of not counting all the ballots was not to
avoid unnecessary labor that makes no difference in who qualifies for
the second round, but to change the results from what would have
happened in the second round.
Accordingly, on July 7 the OAS electoral-observation mission announced
that it had determined that according to the provisions of Haiti's own
electoral legislation, the final results for the Senate elections as
proclaimed by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) are incorrect, and
the mission cannot consider them either accurate or fair. As a result,
the mission announces that it will not observe the second round of the
electoral process scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 9.
The pragmatic school notes that Aristide needs a totally pliant
parliament in order to assure his reelection and change the
constitutional limit on presidential terms to become president-for-life,
the avowed aim of his supporters. While his Lavalas Family party might
have won a third of the first-round legislative races outright, a second
round would confer name recognition and enforced unity on the opposition
candidate, because this round is confined to the top two vote-getters.
In the first round over thirty opposition parties contended, presenting
Haitian voters with a confused mass. In the second round, the Lavalas
Family candidate would have been opposed by only one candidate who might
unite the opposition and connect with the voters. Such a strengthening
of the opposition in the runoff has been observed in many countries
using two-round electoral systems. Under these circumstances, the
pragmatic school holds, Haitian voters in the second round might have
denied Aristide's party a clear majority.
Here, the pragmatic school notes the preeminent powers given to
parliament in the 1987 constitution (its framers were intent on
preventing another president a vie). Before being qualified to take
office, every government official in Haiti must pass a financial audit
which parliament must approve. If parliament failed to approve the audit
of Aristide's first term, he could be disqualified for the presidency.
It would be even more difficult to gain the two-thirds parliamentary
approval, without a crushing Lavalas Family majority, of the
constitutional changes needed to allow Aristide to remain in the
presidency after 2006. Thus the pragmatic school contends that merely
the win and healthy majority delivered by the voters in the year 2000
election was not enough, given Aristide's untrammeled ambitions.
C. Cultural and psychological dimensions
This school was best summed up by a Port-au-Prince taxi driver: "Lavalas
would have won, even if it had played fair. But it wanted to wipe out
As Aristide himself said in his December 1998 speech announcing for
reelection, the next government would be 100 percent Lavalas, with no
room for "opportunists." The free ride was over. "We want to tell
everyone here, we love our country, this is for Mother Haiti . . .
Everyone who has been fighting against Lavalas won't get a free ride
"From now on, even if you were a candidate, even if you weren't a
candidate, even if you are going to be a candidate, no problem, look me
in the eyes in 2001 . . . Lavalas won't give free rides again."
Lavalas would establish peace, "like it or not."
Some of the psychology at work here was discussed by Haitians on an
Internet chat line in 1998. One Haitian observed,
"The majority of certified, diplomified professionals like to either pat
each other on the back or to tear each other to pieces." Another said,
"Did you know that even in 1998, it is nearly impossible to have any two
Haitian professionals (whatever the field) who disagree on a particular
subject defend their stand side by side, with real arguments, on either
pre-recorded or live radio or TV?"
This Haitian recalled that while in Haiti recently he had taken part in
call-in radio shows. "I got tired of hearing one-sided praise or
one-sided character assassination." He proposed real debates at which
both sides would be represented. Several radio hosts told him that they
had given up on that idea years ago.
"The guy who feels on top at any particular moment simply refuses to sit
down with anyone who doesn't see things his way."
In 1999 University of Quebec sociologist Franklin Midy wove the
political, psychological and cultural strands together in his analysis
of the struggle between the two factions of the Lavalas camp, "one which
may be called legitimist-charismatic and the other
The legitimist faction presents itself as a true representative of the
Haitian people. It is centered around the charismatic figure of
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who claims to embody the true aspirations of the
Haitian masses and to be their true legitimate representative. It is in
this spirit that he was opposed to the creation of a political party,
necessarily partisan, because as he explained, one should not divide the
great family of Lavalas. But later when he realized that the enlarged
family was not as united as expected, that some of the children of the
family did not follow in the path of its father--the "errant
children"--he then tried to reunite the "legitimate children" in an
authentically Lavalas party, where there would be no place for the "free
riders." This is the Fanmi Lavalas party.
Opposing the legitimist-charismatic faction is the
constitutionalist-legal faction which has a majority in the two chambers
of the legislature and is in the position of legally sharing state
power. It is grouped today under the banner of the Organisation du
peuple en lutte (OPL, organization of the people in struggle), formerly
the Organisation politique Lavalas, part of the larger family. The
actual representatives of OPL were elected as part of the ménage before
this organization became the Lavalas Family party under the direction of
There is an apparently unbridgeable conflict between these two political
factions. A conflict that concerns the legitimacy of their power. A
conflict of political legitimacies. The two factions are warring over
legitimacy: the Fanmi Lavalas party claims a total charismatic
legitimacy which excludes the claim of OPL to any legitimacy. It
considers OPL a clique of "free riders." For its part, OPL cites its
majority in the two chambers as the basis of its constitutional
legitimacy and claim for a share of power. Between the two opposing
representations of political legitimacy the conflict seems unbridgeable.
The constitutionalist-legal faction which has a majority in the chambers
demands a share of power while the legitimist-charismatic faction which
claims to embody the true aspirations of the masses behaves as if it
should control all the power.(2)
These various statements by Haitians elucidate the political culture of
the power grab. Two American diplomats, after bitter experience with the
Haitian politicians, were more blunt. Lawrence Pezzullo, an experienced
diplomat who was the U.S. negotiator at Governors Island, said, "I've
never seen people like the Haitians who can belly up to the table and
belly back down again." Robert Gelbard was accused of racism when he
said Haitians didn't have compromise in their genes.
So to the question, "Why did Aristide cheat when he didn't have to?"
there may be no clear answer. He may have needed to in order to make
absolutely sure, and he may have wanted to humiliate his opponents.
Neither explanation is mutually exclusive.
II. Is the situation reversible?
What should U.S. policy be, and that of the international community? And
what should be the attitude of Haiti's nongovernmental well-wishers who
were so important in creating the climate of opinion that enabled
Aristide's return in 1994?
A. Absence of leverage
An aid cutback, such as the United States and Haiti's other major
benefactors have declared, is unlikely to alter the government's course.
Since the disputed 1997 election and the 1999 dissolution of parliament
much aid has already been held back. Meanwhile the Haitian politicians
have learned how to live on the cash flow from long-distance telephone
calls, remittances from the weary Diaspora, gifts from Taiwan and
subsidies from Colombian drug lords. For them, just as for their
predecessors, this familiar petty flow occludes the vast potential that
could be Haiti's.(3)
The cost to the poor is invisible, but huge. For while Western alms can
bypass the government using nongovernmental organizations, as was done
for decades under the Duvaliers, a permanent solution to the poverty can
only be found through a government that uses abundant Western aid to
rebuild the infrastructure and create the security and rule of law that
the economy must have to flourish. There is no way to punish the Haitian
government without ultimately punishing the people as well.
If the smooth, obvious scenario of a total Lavalas takeover continues,
and a unified government rules Haiti under another president a vie, the
United States whether under Democratic or Republican administration will
soon enough acquiesce, easily prizing the stability over the democratic
principle. Upholding that principle will fall to the battered Haitian
opposition and the scattering of international human-rights groups that
were the original opposition to the Duvaliers and subsequent military
Many Haitians, too, if not Lavalas supporters, would be glad to see an
end to the political turmoil and a cohesive government, even if
undemocratically conceived. No less a figure than Leslie Voltaire, a
technocrat and one of the original founders of the Lavalas Family party,
has contended that this party intends to nominate highly-qualified
professionals to the key ministries to lift Haiti out of its poverty. If
so, foreign support, however grudging at first, will return.
B. Unpredictability of present situation
On the other hand, a regime that can so badly mishandle even an election
that it wins may not remain stable. The opposition frequently refers to
the "barons of Tabarre." Among them are eager senatorial candidates,
some of them former army men linked to drug traffickers, who are reputed
to have their own armed coteries. Once they had "won" under the false
count they would never consent to a second round. The exact relations
between them and Aristide remain murky. His past poor record for
maintaining allegiances bodes ill for the stability of any relationship
of trust. Baronial politics and repression is the inevitable
accompaniment of personalistic rule and such disunity was the bane of
Latin American politics until well into the twentieth century.
Instability in Haiti, however, because of its location, becomes a far
more sensitive issue for the United States than even genocide in Africa.
It is hard to guess the issue that might flare up out of control--flow
of drugs or refugees, disease, or a humanitarian disaster. The
demographic pressures alone, if accompanied by a stagnant economy, could
lead to a breakdown in public order.(4)
C. What should policy be now?
It can be argued that the mistake of American policy after the
intervention, when the United States still had major leverage, was to
neglect (relatively) the other institutions of constitutionality while
restoring the presidency whole. In the present situation, where the lack
of foreign leverage is painfully clear and a one-party state is taking
form, a far-sharper emphasis on civic society and the remaining
democratic space may be the only democratic route left, the only
alternative to acquiescing in the fait accompli. But this is a drastic,
potentially divisive course to take, and one that could expose the
Haitian opposition to repression that outsiders would be virtually
powerless to prevent.
For the time being, the Republican opposition in Congress will prevent a
too-hasty administration embrace of a fraudulent regime in Haiti. But
while the Republicans emerge paradoxically as the champions of
democracy, is not their real motivation to portray Haiti as a failure of
Clinton policy? If so, that neglects the fact that the functional policy
that emerged since 1994 was equally theirs, and so is the failure.
III. Implications for Haiti's poor
The failure of Haiti to constitute legitimate governance will exact its
greatest cost on the poor. As noted, if the government halfway
consolidates itself and the international community slowly, as memories
of the electoral fraud fade, restores minimal aid, some progress in
building infrastructure and security may resume. If the government
continues to deteriorate, virtually no infrastructure aid will be
delivered and alms through nongovernmental organizations will become the
main source of aid; even they may be choked off if the government makes
good its threat to tax and regulate these organizations.
Either way, the abundant, enthusiastic, ambitious program that Haiti's
well-wishers prepared in 1994 and 1995 ($3 billion, or twice Haiti's
yearly GDP) is irretrievably gone, a victim of Haiti's impervious
politics.(5) As Enrique Iglesias, head of the Inter-American Development
Bank told a group of Haiti supporters in 1994, "We're going to break the
rules for Haiti." There was going to be enough money to fund social
programs all over Haiti and rebuild the entire infrastructure. The press
has used a figure of $500 million as theInter-American Development Bank
told a group of Haiti supporters in 1994, "We're going to break the
rules for Haiti." There was going to be enough money to fund social
programs all over Haiti and rebuild the entire infrastructure. The press
has used a figure of $500 million as the amount Haiti has lost or has
had suspended because of its governmental gridlock. The true figure is
many times higher, higher indeed than $3 billion; it cannot
Without a minimally-effective government for aid donors to work through,
the poor can only be assuaged, not helped. Starvation may be prevented
by food handouts, but agriculture cannot be promoted. Mass epidemics of
disease may be contained, but the epidemic of unemployment continues.
The quest for effective, transparent, and democratic governance in Haiti
should continue above all in behalf of the poor.
The OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti: Chief of
Mission Report to the OAS Permanent Council
July 13, 2000
Declaration of Léon Manus
1998 Aristide speech.
1. The author is grateful for insights contributed by Prof. Henry F.
Carey, assistant professor of political science at Georgia State
University. He was a member of the CIP electoral observation delegation
in May, 2000. He is the author of "Electoral Observation and
Democratization in Haiti" published in 1998 by the University of
2. Franklin Midy, "What's Blocking Haiti," 1999.
3. See a similar analysis in Haïti en Marche, 22 Juillet 2000.
4. Explored in Ernest H. Preeg, The Haitian Dilemma: A Case Study in
Democgraphics, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Washington: The
Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1996).
5. See Hugh Byrne, James Morrell, and Rachel Neild, "Haiti and the
Limits to Nation-Building,"Current History (March 1999), pp. 127-32.