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26852: Hermantin(News)THE WORLD CLOSELY WATCHES THE SUCCESS OF THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIA (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Posted on Sun, Dec. 11, 2005
THE WORLD CLOSELY WATCHES THE SUCCESS OF THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
BY DON BOHNING
Special to The Herald
In a land where nothing is as certain as uncertainty, Haitians will -- maybe --
pick a new president early next year in an election in which both the country
and the international community have much at stake.
After at least three postponements under a dysfunctional electoral council and
amid ongoing internal turmoil, a first-round vote is set for Jan. 8.
If no candidate gets 50 percent plus one of the total vote in the first round,
a runoff will be held Feb. 15 between the two top vote-getters.
With 35 presidential candidates now listed, it would seem unlikely that any
would get the required absolute majority to win in the first round.
What Haiti won't be able to do under the latest electoral timetable, despite
intense international pressure, particularly from the United States, is
inaugurate a new president on the constitutionally mandated date of Feb. 7,
Symbolically, the date marks the 20th anniversary of an end to nearly three
decades of the repressive and often-brutal Duvalier family dictatorship, and is
enshrined in the 1987 constitution as Inauguration Day. But it has become
painfully obvious to all that credible elections could not be carried out in
time to meet that date, given the electoral council disarray and the monumental
logistical problems in a rugged country lacking in modern infrastructure.
Feb. 24 has been set as the new inauguration day.
ENDS INTERIM RULE
Practically, and more significantly, the election will end two years of rule
under an interim government, widely viewed as unpopular and inept, installed
after the Feb. 29, 2004, departure into exile of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, under heavy U.S. and French pressure.
Meanwhile, many in the international community, as well as Haitians, closely
watch the upcoming vote, which will be the first election of any kind there
since disputed parliamentary and presidential balloting in 2000.
Successful and credible elections would mean a government accepted as
legitimate by the international community, enabling the country to move forward
economically and politically. That would help bring badly needed stability to a
country that has seen two foreign military interventions since 1994, and
promote greater security throughout the Caribbean.
For the United States, and Florida particularly, an election result that is
accepted by the voters would alleviate fears of yet another uncontrolled exodus
of Haitians -- legal and illegal -- fleeing continued internal turmoil.
It would also provide a more stable environment to combat the flow of drugs
through the country to the United States.
What is at stake here is Haiti's political legitimacy, economic revival and
general stabilization,'' says Claude Beauboeuf, a Haitian economic consultant
and analyst. A successful electoral process would allow the country to start
improving the business climate, decreasing transaction costs, refurbishing its
international reputation and start attracting local, diaspora and international
80 PERCENT REGISTERED
Some 80 percent of the country's estimated 4.5 million eligible voters have
They will select a president and a 129-member parliament, including 30 senators
and 99 deputies. Local elections for some 10,000 regional and municipal
officials are scheduled March 5.
But the balloting has been repeatedly delayed because of the enormousness of
the task and the ineptness of the interim government and the Provisional
Electoral Council [CEP], the body charged with carrying out the elections.
''From the start, the CEP has been plagued with rivalry, bureaucratic
ineptitude, technical shortcomings and charges of partisanship and
corruption,'' concludes a recent report on Haiti by the International Crisis
Group, a respected nongovernmental organization based in Brussels.
The Oct. 18 appointment of Jacques Bernard, a prominent and well-regarded
banker, as director general of CEP operations helped put order back into the
process, says the Crisis Group, while adding that ``his authority was not
defined and he faces some resistance from CEP members.''
Neither is the interim government, installed following Aristide's departure,
held in much higher regard. It has been accused of both cronyism and
incompetence. It also has added to the electoral confusion by overruling the
country's Supreme Court on eligibility of presidential candidates.
More recently, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue announced Dec. 27 as a new
election date, apparently without consulting with the CEP, which days later
made it Jan. 8.
Some observers have suggested both the interim government and the electoral
council are deliberately dragging their feet in order to prolong the process
and their positions. In addition, the interim government has been criticized by
international human rights activists for its ongoing detention of Yvon Neptune,
Aristide's former prime minister, and Gérard Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic
priest and staunch Aristide supporter.
''No one wants the transitional government to continue,'' says one foreign
official involved in the process. ``The only purpose of the transitional
government is to get to elections. They finally got the message.''
In addition to the bureaucratic disarray of the electoral council and the
interim government, there are other difficulties that will make any election
here difficult. Key one is the ongoing problem of the kidnappings for ransom,
down from earlier this year but still averaging more than two a day.
Also, there is the corrupt and ineffective police force. Mario Andresol, a
respected police officer who fled the country under Aristide and took over as
police chief earlier this year, acknowledged in an October interview after
touring the country's police units that ``there is a large corruption problem.
About a quarter of the force is involved in corruption, kidnappings and even
Criminal activity continues as well. A new report by the Geneva-based Small
Arms Survey organization estimates there are some 210,000 firearms in Haiti,
with only about 26,000 of them in the hands of United Nations peacekeepers and
Haitian authorities. It also estimates that 1,600 people have died since
Aristide's flight into exile.
Unchecked gang violence, much of it perpetrated by pro-Aristide gangs known as
chimeres, continues -- although there is disagreement about how much of an
obstacle to the electoral process these pose.
Juan Gabriel Valdés, the United Nations special envoy in Haiti, acknowledged in
a recent interview with The Associated Press that chimeres still controlled
some parts of the capital. Haitian sources report, however, the 7,600 U.N.
peacekeepers in the country -- led by Brazilians -- have cracked down in recent
weeks in some of the known chimere strongholds such as Cité Soleil and Cité
Militaire and that ''security should not be an issue'' come election day.
A major obstacle to the process, however, could be the ''winner-take-all''
nature of Haitian politics, in which an election sometimes creates more
problems than it resolves.
Haitian elections have long been based on the idea that ''to the winner belongs
the spoils,'' rather than compromise and reconciliation for the betterment of
As a result, ''Haiti's elections have historically exacerbated, not alleviated,
its political and social divisions,'' observed the International Crisis Group.
Under the current electoral system a candidate polling more than 50 percent in
the first round is automatically elected. By manipulating the first round, as
Aristide's Lavalas party did in the disputed 2000 parliamentary elections, it
won overwhelming control of the Senate, exacerbating already-existing political
''Many of us, including Haitians, believe there is a fatal flaw in the election
process,'' said Robert Maguire, a longtime Haiti specialist who now heads the
Haiti program at Trinity University in Washington. ``There is no proportional
representation. The winner takes all, promotes an adversarial relationship. If
a party wins 10 percent or some arbitrary number it should have representation
Proportional representation would assure a healthy parliamentary opposition.
However, with the upcoming election carried out under international supervision
and with a multitude of parties and candidates, the new president may face the
reverse problem of fragmentation rather than dominance.
As the International Crisis Group also suggests, ``few experts expect any party
to win a substantial bloc of [parliamentary] seats, let alone a majority,
leaving much of the nation's crucial governance Byzantine and likely paralyzing
That means the new president, whoever it may be, will face not only the
prospect of parliamentary gridlock, but the monumental task of undertaking
drastic reforms in a wide array of governmental institutions, from justice and
security to finance and education.
A significant but unknown factor affecting the election outcome is what level
of Aristide's support remains among Haiti's poor masses and whether it will go
to candidates identified with his Lavalas Family Party. If it does, it could
benefit Marc Bazin, or even René Préval, although Aristide has said from South
African exile that he is backing no one. [See box at right.]
So, what could the outcome be?
''Haiti could gradually transform itself into a Caribbean Mauritius [a
well-governed island nation in the Indian Ocean off Africa] if the electoral
process succeeds; or a Caribbean Somaghanistan should it fail, a mixture of
Somalia and Afghanistan,'' says Beauboeuf.
''The country has a lot of potential to perform well at many levels,'' adds
Beauboeuf. ``Nevertheless, it has eloquently proven that it has the potential
to become, as well, a very unstable place should its structures collapse.''
No matter the election outcome, success will also depend heavily on continued
economic and security support by the international community, and particularly
the United States, if it is to prevent Haiti from becoming a failed state.
Don Bohning is a former Herald Latin America editor who covered Haiti from 1967
to 2000. He also is the author of The Castro Obsession: U.S. Cover Operations
Against Cuba 1959-1965, recently published by Potomac Books, Inc.