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#2946: Tired of crisis, Haitians demand election (fwd)
WIRE:03/21/2000 16:51:00 ET
ANALYSIS-Tired of crisis, Haitians demand election
PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 21 (Reuters) - The repeated postponement of
legislative elections in Haiti has frustrated voters, wounded an
already abysmal economy and raised new fears of political crisis
in a country that established democracy only in the last decade.
"The time has come to get the country out of this crisis," said Guy
Alexandre, former Haitian ambassador to the Dominican Republic and
general coordinator of the nonpartisan group DemocraticInitiative,
which was set up to press for timely elections and restoration of
democratic institutions, including parliament.It is absolutely
necessary to push for a resolution that will restart the electoral
process, and to have two separate elections this year -- the first one
as soon as possible." Hundreds of protesters marched in the southern
city of Les Cayes on Monday and called for President Rene
Preval to resign if a new parliament is not seated by June, as
constitutionally mandated. Preval dissolved parliament 14 months ago
and has ruled the Caribbean nation by decree ever since. Elections
were planned for late 1998, delayed to late 1999, then set for March
19. Two weeks ago, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) pushed back
the date to April 9 due to problems registering Haiti's more than four
million voters. Preval cancelled the elections and refused to approve
the new date. His government called for an investigation into voter
registration, which has been marred by theft of registration materials
and rampant fraud.Critics called Preval's split with the CEP a political
strategy to delay legislative elections until the end of the year, when
they could be combined with presidential elections. Preval is tied to
the Lavalas Family party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who
is expected to win the presidency. With the two elections held
together, Aristide partisans could ride to victory on his coat tails.
"We don't understand what happened between Preval and the CEP who were
getting along so nicely --suddenly there is a split. We wonder if it is
a real split or a political tactic," said Jean-Lavaud Frederick, a
member of one of the country's largest teachers unions. If they don't
want to have elections, they have to pretend there is some kind of
dispute," said Frederick.
Aristide, a former priest and the country's first freely elected leader,
was restored to power in 1994 by a U.S.-led military invasion to
overthrow an army regime. When his term ended, Aristide handed power
to Preval. International pressure for elections mounted last week.
The Organisation of American States called on Preval to set a new
election date as soon as possible. The European Union said aid to Haiti
was contingent on the restoration of all national institutions.
"If there is no election, we will have to evaluate our projects and
programmes here. This is not a threat or blackmail it is just the
reality of the international organisations," Canadian Ambassador Gilles
Bernier told Reuters. More than $300 million in World Bank loans and
International Development Bank funds are stalled because there is no
parliament to ratify them. "The role of parliament in mobilising badly
needed concessionary loans is very, very important," Michael Azefor,
the World Bank representative in Haiti, told Reuters. More than $100
million in interest-free World Bank loans to Haiti for health,
education, and rural development projects has been on hold for nearly
three years. "They need a major injection of investment money --
money that builds schools, build roads, builds health centres, pulls a
lot of the unemployed off the streets and into productive work,"
Azefor said. Haiti's annual per capita income is estimated at $410
and its unemployment rate is well above 60 percent. Those are the
reasons that even though the World Bank is not per se interested in
elections, we are very keen to see that these elections take place as
quickly as possible because further lending from us is 100
percent dependent on a functioning Haitian parliament," Azefor said.
The political crisis has fuelled a rise in inflation which had
stabilised at 7 percent annually and now tops 10 percent.
The value of the Haitian gourde has dropped to 21.5 gourdes to the U.S.
dollar since Preval cancelled elections without setting a new date. The
gourde had stabilised at 16 to the dollar for about three years but
sank as election doubts grew. Economists say that unless Preval sets an
election date, the gourde will continue to plunge. "The solution is
not economic, it's political," Kesner Pharel, of the economic consulting
firm Groupe Croissance, said. "The market will be very nervous as
long as Preval waits to announce anything."