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8285: REUTERs FWD - Haiti election plan could free up needed aid (fwd)
Haiti election plan could free up needed aid
By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, June 12 (Reuters) - A Haitian plan to hold new
elections for seven disputed Senate seats could free up hundreds of millions
of dollars in badly needed foreign aid and help remove a shadow over
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's second term, analysts said on Tuesday.
Some analysts said the plan, which Aristide presented to Organization of
American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria and which was approved by the
OAS at its General Assembly in Costa Rica this month, was long overdue.
Aristide's credibility has been battered over the dispute.
"It's hard to overstate how much frustration there is with Haiti," said
Rachel Neild, senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, a
think tank focusing on human rights in the region.
"I would hope this is a serious effort on Aristide's part. He's dragged this
out and international patience is being exhausted."
But some of the onus is also on the main opposition group in the impoverished
Caribbean nation of 7.8 million people to accept the plan. So far, it has
dragged its feet.
Democratic Convergence, a 15-party opposition alliance composed of former
Aristide supporters and of military officers who overthrew him at the start
of his first term in office in 1991, objected to the OAS agreement because
Aristide negotiated without the consent of the opposition,
On Tuesday, opposition leader Micha Gaillard said Convergence would accept an
Aristide invitation to take part in the Provisional Electoral Council that
organizes elections only after agreement was reached on its objectives and
DISPUTE AROSE AFTER ELECTIONS
The dispute arose soon after Haiti, struggling to shake off the bitter legacy
of decades of dictatorship and military rule, held legislative elections a
year ago in May. Voters turned out in high numbers and election day was
virtually free of violence. Aristide and his ruling Lavalas Party looked
likely to win.
But the OAS joined domestic critics in charging soon after the vote that the
electoral council had incorrectly calculated the vote and handed a string of
outright victories to Lavalas when they should have had runoffs.
The government resisted pressure from at home and abroad and refused to
reexamine the contested seats. In protest, major opposition parties boycotted
the Nov. 26 election that easily handed Aristide -- who first held office
during a troubled period from 1991-1996 -- the presidency again.
Foreign donors -- the Inter-American Development Bank, the International
Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Union -- have withheld more than $500
million in aid, most for development projects. Almost 80 percent of Haiti's
population lives in abject poverty.
But some analysts also blame Aristide's opponents, who formed a shadow
government to challenge his legitimacy and are still demanding completely
fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.
"He's bent over backward to meet the demands of an illegitimate opposition,"
said Irwin Stotzky, a human rights center director at the University of Miami
and a board member of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy.
As part of an agreement last December with the United States, Aristide asked
opposition members to join his government, a proposal they rejected.
In addition to forming a new electoral council and having the senators
resign, Aristide also said he would cut to two years the terms of all
legislators and hold elections to form a permanent electoral council.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who rose to power in 1991 after
spearheading a national grass-roots movement that helped oust dictator
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, was toppled seven months into his term. A
U.S.-led invasion restored him to power in 1994 but he stepped down in 1996
because of a five-year term limit.
Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited.