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Election show kicks off without the people

From This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 13, no. 13, 21-27 June 1995

What if an election was held and nobody showed up? That's the problem that the Haitian government and the ubiquitous international community face as they try to put some substance to their claim that democracy has truly been restored to Haiti. But despite the constant urging of Haitian government officials, dozens of political parties, ten thousand candidates, radio and television propaganda, and the United States, United Nations, and the Organization of American States (OAS), the 3.7 million eligible voters of Haiti seem entirely unimpressed.

Compared to the last elections held in Haiti, when a militant priest by the name of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide galvanized an entire country in Dec. 1990, the local and parliamentary elections slated for June 25 seem like a funeral. The reason, on the surface, is simple: the vote is clearly designed for international consumption, not for the Haitian people. But behind this basic understanding lies a more tragic reality -- the demobilization and demoralization of a mass movement that, just a few years back, had begun to determine the destiny of the country.

Even before the elections have taken place, the intentions of the United States and the United Nations are abundantly clear. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, along with other US and UN officials, have just about declared the elections free and fair, albeit with some irregularities. I think that there is a remarkable process taking place in Haiti, and nobody expects it to be picture perfect, Albright said on a trip to Philadelphia June 15. I think that we are very encouraged. The same line was echoed by one UN official in Haiti. Sylvie Moncion, a UN press officer for hundreds of UN elections observers, told the Associated Press this week that we have the distinct impression that the elections will be free and regular.

The assessment that the June 25 elections will indeed be free and regular is not shared by all observers. Some commercial media have expressed apprehension of election violence, but only sporadic attacks on candidates have punctuated the lusterless campaign season. Deeply unpopular right-wing politicians are also charging that the elections are flawed, claiming that the vote is rigged in favor of President Aristide's Lavalas Popular Organization (OPL). Other groups like Human Rights Watch/Americas argue that the existence of election related threats and violence highlights the need for Haiti's police and the international forces of UNMIH to intensify their efforts to provide security during the electoral period.

Human Rights Watch also recommended that the Aristide government investigate the electoral irregularities, including the recently revealed loss or theft of up to 1.5 million voter registration cards. Just in the last few days, however, the head of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Anselme Remy, announced that many of those missing ballots had reappeared informally. Nevertheless, other complaints have since emerged. Manno Charlemagne, for instance, a candidate for mayor of Port-au-Prince, reports that his red guitar symbol has been left off the ballot, replaced only by a blue and red flag. Indeed, symbols for at least a dozen candidates have been left off some of the 18 million ballots printed by a California-based company.

But these complaints, whether from the pro-putschists, liberal democrats, or maverick campaigners like Charlemagne, all miss the point and serve to detract from the real issue surrounding the vote: the logical impossibility of free and fair elections under a US-led military occupation of the country.

To vote on June 25 is to vote for selling the country to the Americans, IMF, and World Bank, declared thousands of leaflets distributed nationwide by the National Popular Assembly (APN) as part of its mobilization against the eleksyon malatchong (bogus elections). Justice, disarmament, and disoccupation before elections, the tracts read.

We think that these elections will not lead to any true democratic results as they are trying to make the people believe, declared another popular organization, the Committee for the Defense of the National Interests (KODENA). Down with the occupation! Down with these bogus elections!

Several other popular organizations including the Haitian Coumbite Against Occupation (KAKO) and the Popular Assembly of Women (RFP) also condemned the elections.

Indeed, the elections are being largely financed and run by the United States. And that Made in the USA label only spells one thing -- trouble.