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6134: Democracy in Haiti Where Votes Are Just a Start (fwd)




From: nozier@tradewind.net

December 3, 2000 NY TIMES
Democracy in Haiti Where Votes Are Just a Start  By DAVID GONZALEZ

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti --Even before Jean-Bertrand Aristide was declared
the winner of last Sunday's presidential election, his exultant      
supporters danced in the streets proclaiming his victory. So what     
if the vote tallies had yet to be compiled or that the country's       
major opposition parties had boycotted the elections?Democracy in Haiti
these days seems to be more anticipatory than participatory.          
Eventually, with a veneer of precision, electoral officials said        
Mr. Aristide had won 91.69 percent of the votes cast by 2.8 million
voters. They estimated that turnout in some neighborhoods was 80
percent,even though diplomats and news accounts estimated a much      
lower turnout: about 10 percent.
 What all this meant for the state of democracy, and for the prospects
for improvement, was unclear. Opposition leaders said such inflated
figures were yet another step in a slide back toward one-party rule. But
Mr.Aristide spoke confidently and optimistically about the need to     
unite the country and even reach out to the opposition.
"To have a peaceful Haiti the opposition is indispensable," he said
during a news conference. "There is no way for a democratic country to
pretend it is moving ahead with one party. This is part of our
democratic faith."

The notion of a democratic faith here is the heart of the matter. Over
the course of a decade, Mr. Aristide has encouraged its formation
with his words. But the international community and the opposition
say it now needs to be reinforced with acts. After a disputed
vote-counting method in last May's legislative and local elections
gave Mr. Aristide's Lavalas party an overwhelming victory,opposition
groups and outside countries alike shunned last week's elections,
sending neither money, observers nor candidates. They have continued to
insist that true democracy requires reforms in the electoral council and
the inclusion of serious opponents.

There is a paradox, though  one that is common in impoverished
countries that are trying to establish democratic rule. It may be
unreasonable to expect that a country like this, which has only seen
one peaceful transfer of presidential power, can conduct flawless
elections after years of enduring dictatorships. In Nicaragua and
Guatemala, even after several elections, the transition to democracy
is still beset by public insecurity and political machinations that
undermine or exclude the opposition.

Here in Haiti, business leaders said last week that Mr. Aristide's
advisers and supporters have been in touch with them to enlist their
aid in a transition team. But even as they expressed hope that this
was an opening to press for democratic change, the businessmen
said they also had to worry about being used as mere window
dressing to appease the international community."The business community
would be suicidal to say no," said a businessman who insisted on
anonymity. "The bottom line is he is going to be president. We are going
to raise the issues. Is he going to listen?"So this is Haiti's political
culture today: one marked by suspicion and intransigence on both sides,
where accusations are flung while fledgling institutions fail to settle
disputes and reassure the public.For some Haitian politicians, the
electoral confusion just a few miles north in Florida was a point of
amusement and an excuse for evasion when they were asked about the
irregularities in the May elections or the fairness of last week's
elections. It was a glib comparison,revealing only in how dissimilar the
situations really were. "Yes, we have a problem in Florida, but we also
have the rule of law, an independent judiciary and respect for the law,"
said Robert Pastor, a professor of political science at Emory University
who has observed several Haitian elections. "You do not have that in
Haiti.What you do have is an extremely poor country with minimal      
literacy and extremely underdeveloped administrative capacity.
There is no kind of compromise. That all makes democracy extremely
problematic."