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#1397: Haitians turn their backs on President Preval-and politics

From: Backer, Laurette M <lbacker@kpmg.com>

> 	4th December 1999 THE AMERICAS
> 	Haitians turn their backs on President Preval-and politics 
> 	P O R T - A U - P R I N C E  
> 	Any country that puts off an election is in trouble. In the past
> year-and-a-half, Haiti has postponed three
> 	 	 Search archive
> 	IT WAS going to hold elections this month. It was going to hold them
> last month. It was going to hold them last year. Recently, a few banners
> have been strung above the traffic-choked main avenues of Port-au-Prince,
> Haitiís capital, proclaiming that the elections will at last take place on
> March 19th 2000. ďAnother victory for democracyĒ, declare the banners in
> Creole. The irony would be tempered if Haitiís elections were actually to
> happen. But, even if they are held as promised this time, there is no
> guarantee that they will counter popular disenchantment with democratic
> politics. 
> 	 [Image]
> <http://vh1.economist.com/eco_images/editorial/freeforall/19991204/3am7.jp
> g>	 EPA
> <http://vh1.economist.com/eco_images/editorial/editorial_gifs/caption_EPA.
> gif>	
> 	Preval the unready	  	
> 	The last time Haitians were consulted at the polls was in April
> 1997, when an election was held for a third of the Senate seats. Only 7%
> of voters bothered to turn out. A dispute then broke out, not about the
> electionís legitimacy but over alleged vote-rigging by supporters of
> Lavalas Family, the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haitiís first
> democratically elected president, who had handed over power to his
> successor, Renť Preval, at a presidential election in 1995. 
> 	Lavalas Family had hoped, but failed, to wrest control of the Senate
> from the Organisation of People in Struggle (OPL)-a rump of the original
> Lavalas movement that had first carried Mr Aristide to power in 1990. In
> protest at the alleged vote-rigging, Rosny Smarth, then prime minister,
> resigned and the OPL-dominated parliament blocked all President Prevalís
> subsequent nominations for prime minister, as well as most legislative
> business. It also failed to ensure that a fresh parliamentary election
> took place as promised in November 1998, and its mandate duly expired the
> following January. 
> 	That was only the first postponement. The elections, both
> parliamentary and local, were then scheduled for November this year.
> President Preval formed a provisional government with one purpose: to hold
> the elections. But, with an electoral commission still not ready to hold a
> poll, the elections were deferred first to December, and have now been put
> off again. 
> 	The upshot is that Haitiís government has been practically paralysed
> for 30 months. New budgets have not been passed, so a lot of promised
> foreign money has been suspended. Total aid and loans to the country,
> according to the UNDP, fell from $534m in 1995 to $356m last year, while
> the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank together have a
> further $570m-equivalent to 18% of Haitiís GDP-on hold. Many structural
> reforms, such as an overhaul of the judicial system and the privatisation
> of creaking state enterprises, have been halted. 
> 	The economy remains in a dire state. It was crushed by international
> sanctions, which were imposed after Mr Aristide was deposed by a military
> coup only nine months after his election in 1990, and before American
> troops reinstalled him three years later. During those years, GDP was cut
> by a third. Hopes of rebuilding the economy quickly are now dust. Though
> inflation is down, public spending is under control and there is some,
> albeit weak, economic growth, official figures mask dreadful poverty. 
> 	Formal unemployment is estimated to be 50-70%. Peasant farmers walk
> for an entire day from the countryside to sell a few dollarsí worth of
> wrinkled oranges in Port-au-Prince. The city centre is crumbling, its
> roads cratered and thick with rubbish. Survival often depends on
> remittances, said to be worth up to $1 billion in 1998, from Haitians
> abroad. 
> 	Particularly alarming is the drugs boost to the economy. The army,
> which used to catch smugglers, was disbanded by Mr Aristide-though not
> disarmed, leaving the place awash with guns. The police force that
> replaced it is small-just 6,000 officers for a population of 7.5m,
> scattered over a hilly, inaccessible country-inexperienced, and made up
> mostly of polite young university graduates rather than the streetwise
> toughs needed to fight narco-traffickers. The justice system is feeble and
> overstretched: 80% of prisoners are still awaiting trial. Thanks to this,
> and with its quiet coves lying just a few hours by speedboat due north of
> the Colombian coast, Haiti is fast becoming a popular cocaine-smuggling
> route. 
> 	In short, Haitians badly need a proper government. Will they get the
> chance to elect one? Organising the poll seems to be hard enough. Some 4m
> voters have to be registered. A public event in October, designed to
> educate an electorate for whom voting is still a novelty, was broken up by
> people throwing stones and bottles of urine, claiming-though the party
> denies it-to be from Mr Aristideís party. Opinion polls are hard to come
> by, but a straw poll of 28 people in and around Port-au-Prince this week
> revealed that, while most knew there were elections due, only seven knew
> which month, and just five knew what kind they would be. 
> 	To add to the logistical problems, the deadline for registering
> candidates for the 10,000-odd posts available at the municipal elections,
> now also postponed till 2000, is December 10th-and, so far, only a handful
> have signed up. Moreover, the government now says that all prospective
> contestants must first prove they have paid their taxes. 
> 	All of which adds up to a growing suspicion in some quarters that Mr
> Preval may be seeking ways to keep postponing polling day, little by
> little, just long enough to ensure that the polls coincide with the
> presidential one due in December 2000. Mr Prevalís team, naturally, denies
> anything of the sort. But such a delay would give Mr Aristideís party,
> riding on his captivating personality, a better chance of winning control
> of parliament. 
> 	Perhaps the greatest test will be whether voters turn out.
> Disenchantment with politics, or at least with the democratic brand of it
> that has turned out so disastrously for Haiti over the past decade, is
> growing. Says one former Aristide supporter: ďI swear, Iíll cut off my
> finger before I vote again.Ē 
> 	Laurette M. Backer
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