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#3844: This Week in Haiti 18:10 5/24/00 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
May 24 - 30, 2000
Vol. 18, No. 10
MASSIVE TURN-OUT FOILS "ELECTORAL COUP D'ETAT"... FOR NOW
The Lavalas Family (FL), the party headed by former president
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has swept Haiti's legislative and
municipal elections throughout most of the country, according to
a highly placed electoral official, who asked to remain
That outcome was augured by random exit polls conducted by
journalists at various voting stations (BVs) around Haiti during
the May 21st election. Only in the departments of the Northwest
and Central Plateau did there appear to be doubt that FL
candidates would win most of the posts up for grabs, the
electoral official said.
There may be some surprises too, according to the source. For
instance, it seems likely that Mirlande Manigat, the wife of
former military-installed president Leslie Manigat and candidate
of his National Democratic Patriotic Assembly (RDNP), will win a
Senate seat in the Western department, which includes Port-au-
Due to political struggles, voting in the Grande Anse department,
the westernmost tip of Haiti's lower lip, will not be held until
May 28. The island of Gonâve will also have its elections at a
later date due to political challenges which effectively thwarted
the vote there.
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that more than
60% of the four million-odd registered voters turned out to pick
from among 29,490 candidates running to fill the seats of 19
senators, 83 deputies, 133 mayors, and 7000 local assembly
representatives. This is the largest voter participation since
the Dec. 1990 elections which brought Aristide to power.
Many in the FL, along with other progressive parties and popular
organizations, had feared that shortages of electoral cards,
meddling by the U.S. State Department, and election-related
violence would restrict voter participation. This "electoral coup
d'état" was overcome, however, when the Haitian people braved
threats, pre-election bombings, and alarming media reports to
turn-out to vote in droves.
Despite a late and chaotic start, the polling proceeded with
relatively little violence or disruptions, thanks in large part
to the patience of voters who waited for hours in long lines.
Many Bvs, which were supposed to open at 6 a.m., did not do so
until late morning or early afternoon. Even President René Préval
had to return to his local BV later in the day to vote since it
was closed in the morning. As a result of such delays, the
polling period was extended past the 5 p.m. deadline.
Nonetheless, "[t]he vast majority of BVs we observed received
materials on time and were able to begin functioning with ample
time to cast their ballots," reported the International Coalition
of Independent Observers (ICIO).
Before the vote, the ICIO had expressed concern that voters would
not be able to find the Bvs where they had to vote since the CEP
did a poor job of publicizing their locations. "In several
instances we did witness voters turned away from BV and BV staff
unable to redirect them," the ICIO wrote in its post-election
report. "But BV employees were overwhelmingly helpful, consulting
with voters in line to be sure they were in the right location,
and in the areas we observed most people seemed able to find
The 3,500 police officers deployed to provide security for the
11,200 Bvs did a good job overall. The only fatalities occurred
in the town of Croix de Bouquets, about six miles north of the
capital, when policeman Abellard Clervil tried to calm a man who
was becoming excited at a BV. The man drew a gun and shot Clervil
twice in the chest. Other cops returned fire, killing the gunman.
Officer Clervil died later from his wounds.
There were some other violent incidents. The night before the
election, someone lobbed a Molotov cocktail at Lafanmi Selavi,
the orphanage founded by Aristide. Three days earlier, someone
threw a grenade at the CEP headquarters, injuring seven people.
The day after the election, a Port-au-Prince mayoral candidate of
the Assembly of Patriotic Citizens (RCP) was apparently hit in
the head by a rock and killed during a scuffle between his
partisans and others purporting to be from the FL.
There were several arrests in different parts of the country
during the election, mostly of troublemakers at Bvs or of people
carrying legal guns, which were banned during the electoral
weekend. The police also closed the border with the Dominican
Republic, the airport, and most public transport (except for
state-sponsored Service Plus buses). Motorcycles, most bandits'
vehicles of choice, were strictly forbidden to circulate, and
non-essential traffic was also curtailed.
One of the worst vote-counting abnormalities happened in Port-au-
Prince. Boxes of marked and blank ballots were left out on Rue
Pavée where the Departmental Electoral Office (BED) is located.
"Thousands of these ballots were littered in the street, being
driven on by cars and blown by the wind," said Radio Canada
reporter Guy Jeandron, who surveyed the scene at about 8 a.m. on
the day after the elections. "Many of the boxes and envelopes
containing the marked ballots had been torn open."
A Canadian election consultant, Jean-Paul Poirier, told the AP
that he organized election workers to recuperate about 90% of the
errant ballots. One CEP official belittled the matter, saying
that the ballots were already counted and not required for any
The 200 or so international observers universally assessed the
elections as "satisfactory," praising the large turn-out and
saying that the delays and logistical problems seemed minor. The
ICIO reported that "voters were able to participate without fear"
at over 100 Bvs they visited. A U.S. Congressional observer
delegation led by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. William
Delahunt (D-MA) was also upbeat, if circumspect. "Though we do
not presume to paint the entire picture, or draw any firm
conclusions from our preliminary observations, we can say we saw
a firm commitment from Haiti's citizens to make these elections a
success," the congressmen said. Conyers also told the Washington
Post that he was "totally pleased and happy" with how the vote
was conducted. Oscar Tarranco, the representative of the United
Nations Development Project (UNDP), called the voter
Despite such positive assessments, Haitian "opposition" parties,
surely suspecting their defeat, have launched an all-out campaign
to discredit the vote and press Washington to renounce it. Most
importantly, the "particles," as they are called in Haiti, have
drawn themselves up into a new alliance called the "Group of
Convergence," which includes the Organization of People in
Struggle (OPL), the RDNP, the MOCHRENA, PADEMH, the Space of
Concert (Espace de Concertation) et the Patriotic Movement to
Save the Nation (MPSN). This front is very similar to the UNO
front constructed with U.S. encouragement in the late 1980's in
Nicaragua to face off with the Sandinistas.
The "Convergence" charges that one million ballots have
disappeared, that opposition representatives were purposefully
given unsigned passes so they couldn't enter Bvs, and that the FL
engaged in ballot stuffing and voter intimidation, among other
things. Espace leader Evans Paul charges there was "massive
fraud" while his new ally, former putschist deputy Reynold
Georges, alleges "vast fraud."
The "Convergence" also claims that armed bands identifying
themselves as FL partisans stole ballot boxes and beat up other
candidates. "Why would someone doing something illegal say "I am
a Lavalas Family member?'" Yvon Neptune, an FL Senate candidate,
Aristide, when casting his vote in the late afternoon, said that
he was voting for "peace in the head, peace in the stomach" and
so that "no more grenades will be thrown at the CEP or at the
Lafanmi Selavi orphanage."
Already, FL partisans have begun dancing in the streets. But
their celebration of the moment should be tempered by the memory
of 1997. Elections in April of that year were declared by
observers to be "free and fair" until the results, which favored
the FL, were announced about a week later. The other main
contender, the OPL, protested, and Washington then began
backtracking and backsliding to portray the elections as
Again today, Washington is very leery that Aristide, who plans to
run for president in November, would have a friendly parliament.
The Lavalas victory "took U.S. officials and many international
observers here by surprise," the Washington Post reported, partly
because "[o]pinion polls, including one funded by USAID, had
predicted that Lavalas would get no more than 30 to 35 per cent
of the vote."
Will Washington and its "international community" respect the
will of the Haitian people as clearly expressed by their large
turn-out and largely Lavalas vote on Sunday? Unfortunately,
history tells us, probably not. Be prepared in the days ahead for
yet another attempt to subvert the Haitian people's quest for
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