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#3903: As Tallying Drags On, Haiti Election Is Called Unfair, Flawed (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Saturday, May 27, 2000 |

As Tallying Drags On, Haiti Election Is Called Unfair, Flawed

By MARK FINEMAN, Times Staff Writer

     ANSE-A-GALETS, Haiti--As local election chief Wisner Moise finished
counting his town's 19,000 votes, more than a dozen opposition candidates on
this isolated island off Haiti's west coast huddled in the Magic Night Club
Bar & Restaurant to assess their nation's latest attempt at democracy.
     "What happened last Sunday was not an election. It was a masquerade,"
legislative candidate Daniel Bertrand Muebrand said Thursday, as Moise
carried out the slow count inside a police station that was off limits to
the public.
     Fritzner Eliassaint, who said he has been targeted for arrest or death
in the aftermath of the vote, came out of hiding in disguise to say, "We
don't see democracy in the making. We see a new dictatorship in the making."
     And Saint Louis Sonet, the local leader of another opposition party,
concluded: "For 20 years, we were all fighting a right-wing dictatorship,
and now we're falling into a left-wing dictatorship."
     Sunday's vote initially won praise for a high turnout and minimal
violence. But Friday, with dozens of candidates and party workers under
arrest and scores more in hiding, fear and fury rose among opponents of
former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose Lavalas Family party was
poised for a landslide victory.
     Human rights activists, opposition leaders and diplomats said at least
34 people have been detained or are missing in an election that most
analysts now say was free but unfair and deeply flawed, and that may well
leave Haiti a one-party state.
     Aristide, a leftist former Roman Catholic priest, is widely expected to
run--and win--in presidential elections later this year. His party's leaders
said unofficial returns from Sunday's vote showed sweeping Lavalas Family
victories in most of the 7,500 local, provincial and parliamentary seats at
     "What we are witnessing is an overkill by Lavalas. They wanted 100%,"
concluded Jean Claude Bajeux, a human rights leader and independent poll
watcher. "They want more than a majority."
     Amid incomplete tallying nearly a week after the vote, an opposition
candidate in the capital, Port-au-Prince, was bashed in the head by a mob of
Lavalas supporters carrying signs with the party's slogan: Whatever happens,
we'll win.
     Prominent opposition legislative candidate Paul Denis was released
Friday after being held for two days among 16 prisoners in a 12-foot-square
cell on what he called trumped-up weapons-possession charges. But several
dozen other opposition candidates and partisans reportedly were still in
     Reacting late Friday to the arrests, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince
issued a statement saying that "the United States notes with increasing
concern the climate of intimidation in the wake of the recent elections."
     Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who was appointed after
President Rene Preval dissolved Parliament 16 months ago, said the arrests
were "to avoid the sore losers from causing problems."
     "But the opposition cannot speak of a wave of repression," he added,
asserting that members of his Lavalas party also were arrested.
     Whether the arrests and postelection charges are sufficient grounds for
the international community to question the results of the vote is, for
Haiti, a $500-million question. That is the amount of international aid that
has been frozen since Preval, Aristide's handpicked and elected successor,
has run the nation--the Western Hemisphere's poorest--by decree.
     Only a credible outcome will free up the flow of aid, and many voters
said they cast ballots for Lavalas on Sunday to prevent the internal
bickering that led Preval to dissolve Parliament.
     An Organization of American States election mission here expressed
concern Friday about the arrests. But the opposition has sharply condemned
the mission's preliminary report issued earlier this week.
     Acknowledging "isolated" cases of "major" irregularities, the mission's
Barbadian chief, Orlando Marville, said Wednesday that he saw no reason to
challenge the credibility of the vote.
     "Although deplorable, they were isolated incidents and cannot affect
the results in any definitive manner," Marville said.
     According to Bajeux and other poll watchers, those incidents included
widespread stuffing or stealing of ballot boxes. Other boxes were dumped on
the street after the count. Thousands of opposition party poll watchers were
barred from balloting sites nationwide during the vote, they said, and few
opposition representatives witnessed the tallying through the past week of
     Inside the national election commission headquarters in Port-au-Prince,
where office workers on Friday were playing cards, dozing or chatting with
friends, commission Vice President Debussy Damier blamed the long delays on
chronic underdevelopment.
     "It's as simple as the fact that in all countries--even in the
Dominican Republic next door--there is electricity, there are phones, there
is fax," Damier said. "Here, there are no such things."
     To illustrate, he produced an illegible fax that the opposition sent
him Friday from Anse-a-Galets demanding that new elections be held on their
island of La Gonave.
     "I can't read it," he said. "So I have no idea what's going on there."
     On the island itself--two hours by road and two more by ferry outside
the capital--the situation was clear enough: a microcosm of postelection
Haiti, according to most analysts.
     Just days before the election, the opposition simply gave up.
Overwhelmed by the ruling party's political machine, death threats and local
election commission decisions that denied hundreds of their workers access
to the polls, the candidates conceded that they had no chance of victory. In
fact, the island's opposition candidates unanimously boycotted the election.
None voted Sunday. They blamed local election chief Moise, whom they accused
of incompetence, political bias or worse.
     Moise conceded Thursday that he had warned in a nationally broadcast
interview this week that if the leader of the country's largest opposition
coalition came to his island, "the people would stick a knife in him." But
he insisted that he was impartial and that an emerging Lavalas victory for
every seat on the island, from village council to national Senate, was "the
voice of the people."
     On a denuded, dusty island with no paved roads, few phones and no
electricity, he said, it took four days to count the votes because most were
brought to him by mule. Now, he added, he only hopes that Lavalas will use
its victory to help the nation advance.
     Jean Claude Edmond had a different take on the results. An independent
candidate for mayor of Anse-a-Galets, Edmond explained that he had lived in
the United States for 20 years and returned to help build his town into a
U.S.-style city.
     But given the emerging results, he said, the most likely impact will be
to fuel La Gonave's most enduring tradition: sending refugees to Florida's
     "I would guess 75% of the Haitian boat people are from Gonave," he said
of the illegal migrants who have been washing up on Florida's shores this
year--more than 700 so far, nearly double the rate of 1999. "It's geography.
We're the closest point to Cuba. And the fact is, if you head to the
Bahamas, they turn you back. If you head to Cuba, they show you the way
     "What we need here is a real democracy, not just democracy only in
name. And if the situation keeps getting worse like it is, the United States
can expect to see a lot more of us this year."