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5907: "Another Setback for Democracy in Haiti" (fwd)
Busyness Network News: "You Heard It Here First"
Port-au-Prince, November 27, 2000
Another Setback For Democracy in Haiti
Haiti's fragile democracy took another step backwards yesterday with failed
elections for President and one third of the Senate. The elections were
plagued by violence and boycotted by almost everyone concerned, including the
international community and Haiti's political parties.
The streets of Port-au-Prince, normally teeming with the large SUV's of the
diplomatic corps, international organizations and Haiti's elite, were
deserted Sunday, except for public transportation and voters on foot, bicycle
and donkey. Foreigners have been confined to poolside since Wednesday, after
a series of bombs exploded in poor neighborhoods and markets.
Haiti's primitive technology requires hand counting of the ballots, so final
results will not be known for days. Initial estimates indicate that 65% of
Haiti's 5 million registered voters turned out, and 75% of them voted for
former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to international experts
the projections are enough to show a disturbing pattern.
"The 35% abstention rate is simply not consistent with a mature democracy"
according to a U.S. Embassy source. "In America we always reach 50%, without
bombing markets and shooting bus stops. There is something very wrong when
the citizens feel they need to walk a long way to wait in the hot sun in this
security climate, just to send their government a message."
Observers agree that Haiti has missed another opportunity to develop a
multiparty democracy. "It looks like Aristide will win about one vote for
every two registered voters" according to an international expert. "In the
U.S., that number was spread more evenly among Bush and Gore, and Buchanan
and Nader combined. If you look at the opposition, none of them have ever
been allowed to be elected to any office, except when they were running on
It appears that Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas, will win all nine contested
Senate seats, giving it a solid majority in both houses of parliament. "This
is clearly a dangerous situation. In the 1995 legislative elections, the
winners campaigned on Aristide's bandwagon, but when they got to parliament
they realized that his power base was nothing but popular support. We ran
democracy seminars, trainings and meetings with the representatives, and
eventually they changed gears, and abandoned Aristide and his program for one
more acceptable to the international community. We are not confident that
the current Parliament will mature in the same way."
A controversy over the distinction between "blank" and "null" ballots that
marred elections in 1997 has resurfaced. A "blank" ballot contains no
markings, while a "null" ballot is marked, but incorrectly. Haiti has always
had many of both, which is often explained by its low literacy and short
history of democracy. In 1997, the Electoral Council, following precedent,
discarded both blank and null ballots in calculating the winning percentages.
Candidates who lost in the first round contended that there was a difference
between the two, and that blank votes should be included in the calculations.
This year the problem is more serious, because there are more votes in the
"null" and "blank" categories than for any candidate save Aristide.
Politicians are rushing to claim to the "null" and "blank" standards, on the
basis of their electoral history, their party platform, or their embrace of
"option zero". "Option zero", now renamed "option null" or "option blank",
was a campaign strategy of insisting that the legislative elections of May,
2000 be annulled, the Electoral Council disbanded and the President replaced
before the presidential elections could be held.
A party officially declared "null" or "blank" would have two substantial
advantages. First, as in the U.S., matching government funds are at stake.
Second, in the event of a runoff in the presidential race, either null or
blank would go head to head with Aristide. As one opposition politician
stated, "Aristide only got 75% of those who showed up to vote. He may end up
with less than 50% of the total registered voters. It is safe to assume that
the other 50% either voted for us, or didn't vote because of our call for a
boycott and other activities leading up to the election."
Copyright 2000, Busyness Network News (Political Satire)
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