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#3229: FACTS BEHIND DEBATE OVER ELECTIONS -PT2 (fwd)
The President concluded he could not be confident that a well-run, orderly,
transparent and credible election was feasible by April 9. President Preval
then asked the CEP to propose a more realistic date. He suggested that the
CEP and its advisors first complete a credible review of where the
preparations actually stood and complete more of the steps required to
emplace all of the necessary Election Day personnel, before attempting to
pick a new date that they could project with real confidence.
Recently, the State Department has revised its position. It now has
indicated that the self-imposed June 12 deadline actually could be met as
long as the elections were held by the end of April. President Preval has
been strongly urged, therefore, to just cross his fingers and agree to an
election date in late April. But he is being urged to do so:
- before there are assurances that the CEP has corrected flaws in the
- before the CEP really knows where the registration process really stands,
including the whereabouts and security of the registration records;
- before the 40,000 personnel are in place and ready to be trained; and
- Before the initial, inaccurate ballots not only have been corrected, but
also have been readied for distribution in the right quantities for each of
the thousands of polling places.
The President has consulted the CEP technical and operational experts and
their international advisors. The CEP experts told President Preval that it
would take at least 6 to 7 weeks more for adequate preparation. The
personnel training could be done within that period, but only if all of the
vetting had been done in time to allow for a full week to train all the
personnel. Otherwise, an additional week would be required. This estimate
was given to the President on the weekend of March 18; so the earliest
feasible date projected at that point by the CEP's experts was sometime in
early May. And even this projection was based on the CEP's optimistic
assumptions about what could be accomplished in theory.
The greatest blow to Haitian democracy would be to move forward prematurely
into an election where there is mass confusion or voting disruption at
inadequately staffed or poorly operated polling places, or where there are
widespread allegations of fraud and illegitimate results. This would not be
in the interest of Haiti or of the United States. Yet for his prudent and
responsible statesmanship in seeking to guard against such dangers, President
Preval has been criticized as an obstacle, who is dragging his feet for
personal or partisan reasons. In essence, those seeking an imminent election
"Well, let's just have the elections now, cross our fingers and hope for the
But the President's duty involves more than crossing his fingers. It must be
remembered that the recent three-year political deadlock, bemoaned by
everyone, arose from challenges to the legitimacy of the 1997 elections.
Of course, if the elections are marked by problems and disruption, or if the
results are not widely accepted, those same critics undoubtedly will lay the
blame at President Preval's doorstep.
THE ERRONEOUS CONSTITUTIONAL CLAIMS
Under these circumstances, it is appropriate to examine the repeated mantra
that June 12 is a "constitutionally mandated" date for investiture of the new
Parliament. A brief examination of the Haitian Constitution of 1987 reveals
that this is not so. The Constitution clearly distinguishes between, on the
one hand, the occasion when a new Parliament is sworn in and takes office,
and, on the other hand, the time when Parliament, once in office, is expected
to begin each of its two sessions. Article 92-1 states:
"[The Deputies] take office on the second Monday of January, and sit in two
Article 92-2 then states:
"The first session runs from the second Monday of January to the Second
Monday of May; the second session from the second Monday of June to the
second Monday of September."
Since the date of taking office and the beginning of the first session both
occur on the second Monday in May, Article 92-1 would have been superfluous
if the commencement of a "session" and the investiture in office were
considered to be the very same event. Therefore, the reference to commencing
the second session on the second Monday in June cannot be considered to refer
at all to the date on which a new Parliament takes office.
When this error was pointed out, US officials informally suggested that their
ultimate concern lay elsewhere then this alleged "constitutional mandate,"
per se. They now assert that, should the June 12th "deadline" not be met,
then the new Parliament could only be convened by special call of the
President. In any event, they claim, the scope of Parliament's legislative
power would be limited to the scope of the President's call for the special
session. Examination of the relevant constitutional provisions, however,
reveals that this concern, too, is unwarranted.
There is nothing in the Constitution to suggest that a new Parliament must be
seated by means of the President's calling them into special session. The
express terms of that provision, Article 95-2, only authorize him to convene
a sitting Senate if they have adjourned. (4) Thus, in 1994, when the
Parliament had adjourned in November without completing work on an election
law for the 1995 elections, President Aristide called them back into session.
But that provision is inapplicable in the case of a new Parliament that has
not yet begun its term and which can be seated as soon as possible. Neither
this provision nor a parallel one dealing with the "National Assembly" refers
to installing a new Parliament. (5) This was demonstrated in 1995, when a
Parliament finally elected at the end of the summer - well after the second
Monday in June - was installed in the fall as it was certified, without
resort to a special convening of the Senate by the President. That
Parliament enjoyed its full legislative powers under the Constitution.
Finally, it is important to note that President Preval has made quite clear
his determination to have separate elections for Parliament and local offices
now, and for the presidency in December.
The Haitian people by their overwhelming registration turnout have
demonstrated their continued thirst for democratic elections. The Government
of Haiti shares with all Haitians and with the international community the
firm intent to have the parliamentary and local elections take place as soon
as possible. At the same time, the Government, led by President Preval, is
equally determined that those elections occur under circumstances that are
most likely to ensure the wide acceptance of their legitimacy and least
likely to produce social disruption and a new round of debilitating political
deadlock. If all concerned persons of good will work toward that end, and
abandon unjustified finger-pointing tactics, then both goals - prompt
elections and good elections - can be achieved.
Embassy of Haiti
March 28, 2000
(1) That certification was required as one condition of the US provision of
assistance for holding Haitian elections.
(2) These advisors primarily consist of the International Foundation for
Election Systems (IFES), a contractor to USAID, and the UN Development
(3) Many registration centers, especially in poorer urban neighborhoods,
failed to open or to publicize their whereabouts. Would-be voters then
sought to register in other centers that were open, outside of their
neighborhoods. In a good many centers, throughout the country, voters were
equally frustrated after long waits when the center staff had run out of
materials. The total number of registrants exceeded the figure used by the
CEP for planning purposes by some half million voters. (The CEP assumed
about 4.1 million registrants, while the actual number exceeded 4.6 million,
even before the close of registration.) In a substantial number of other
cases, the cameras to be used for the photo-IDs did not work properly or were
mishandled by inadequately trained personnel, and had to be replaced.
(4) Article 95-1 of the Constitution first states that, "The Senate is
permanently in session." Article 95-2 then prescribes when a sitting
Parliament may adjourn and that it must leave a "permanent committee" in
place. That "committee may not make any decisions except to convene the
Senate." Since the Senate is deemed to be permanently in session, this
sentence clearly refers to a Senate that has been sitting and has then
adjourned. The reference to the Executive convening the Senate occurs in the
same provision and context.
"In emergencies, the Executive may also convene the Senate before the end of
any adjournment period." (Emphasis added).
(5) Section C of Chapter II, Title V deals with the "National Assembly,"
which consists of the two branches of the legislature meeting in a single
assembly to consider extraordinary matters of state. Article 101 provides:
"In emergencies, when the Legislature is not in session, the Executive may
call a special session of the National Assembly."