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A day of confusion: Despite low participation and irregularities, elections approved

From Haiti Info
Vol. 3, no. 19. 1 July 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, June 30 - The newspapers and airwaves are full of accusations and counter-accusations, and every day there are more reports of harassed voters, burned ballots or hundreds of thousands left out of Sunday's process.

Today, 16 political parties called for the partial annulation of the elections and the dissolution of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Not uncoincidentally, however, most of them are actually political particles, and ironically, two or three of a certain significance, like PANPRA, participated in the electoral joke of Jan. 18, 1993.

Marc Bazin, a U.S. pawn, and his MIDH party significantly refrained from participating in these elections, knowing that given the current conditions here, where it is absolutely necessary to keep the masses under control, cool down their demands and push them towards reconciliation, the Lavalas, movement, called Bo Tab La (Around the Table after its emblem), with the full support of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was the better bet for the U.S. government.

In stark contrast to the denunciation campaign (generously and tendentiously enlarged by the putschist press looking for revenge and with a big interest in blackening the situation) however, the international community - United Nations, Organization of American States, U.S. and its agencies, observers and foreign politicians - continue their accolades for the elections process, as if repeating a password. President Aristide, too, has added his weight to the balance in an effort to make them credible.

Violence and Irregularities

The most shocking event of the week was the murder of FNCD candidate for deputy, Henock Jean-Charles. But there were also many cases of harassment and intimidation across the country. A preliminary report issued on Oct. 25 by the O.A.S., which gave its stamp of approval, nevertheless noted intimidation, candidates destroying electoral materials, 54 ballot boxes destroyed, threats, fight between various party supporters, BIV (polling place) burned and interference by party agents.

Parties reported hundreds of thousands of voters who could not find the polling places, were turned away on technical grounds, or could not vote because polling places were open only a few hours or elections were cancelled in their area. Participation estimates go from 30 to 65 percent of those supposedly registered. The reasons range from apathy to threats to irregularities.

Although they did not sign the 16-party denunciation, the KONAKOM party, which was in the FNCD grouping that backed President Jean- Bertrand Aristide's bid for president five years ago, called it a coup d'etat for Lavalas and FNCD continues to level heavy criticism.

Lavalas is on Board

Bo Tab La, which probably won most of the 2,100 spots up for grabs, thanks in part to the president's non-stop campaigning, joined the chorus of complaints yesterday, saying their candidates were hurt by the irregularities and violence, too. However, the party endorsed the process overall. Gerard Pierre-Charles said the elections were a political victory for the Haitian people.

The CEP has been hedging its bets. It denounced arson attacks and ballot theft on numerous polling places by those who lost and thus decided to eliminate the votes and has already begun legal action against FNCD candidates it says are responsible in some cases. CEP President Anselme Remy, a known Lavalas sympathizer, went further yesterday, saying the electoral structure had been infiltrated at the highest level by agents of certain political parties and also blamed problems on a familiar target of Lavalas wrath, U.S. Republican party.

Despite the problems and complaints, however, CEP has declared the elections are irreversible and the government has mounted a public relations campaign, complete with radio ads telling people not to listen to rumors that the elections were not democratic and leaflets with cartoons telling people to have confidence in the CEP. Aristide has also endorsed the process, calling it an important step toward democracy, but he maintained his margin of maneuver once again, saying he cannot pronounce himself fully, since it is the CEP's responsibility.

Aristide and the Lavalas sector are willing to accept the faulty process because they will come out with control of many of the country's political posts. Despite the occupation and tutelage of the country, they have bargained they can win a margin of maneuver.

Moving Forward

In the face of the confusion, the result of the contradictions of a reconciliation process whose limits have been clearly exposed and which has been exploited by a ready and waiting press, the U.S. has been forced to recognize the problems and extreme fragility of the situation.

U.S. AID director Brian Atwood, head a delegation sent by President Bill Clinton, tried to explain away the irregularities, calling the elections the most complicated I have ever seen and also saying the CEP is responsible. After those qualifications, however, Atwood called the elections a major step forward for democracy in Haiti and said we will be able to more forward with the next step in the process, the run-off and then the presidential elections in November.

As Atwood's words - which are the words of the U.S. administration - illustrate, Washington and the international community have to move the process forward in Haiti for their own credibility. They all backed the invasion Aristide's return, and now need to pull off a successful and stable transition to democracy.

Clinton especially cannot afford a defeat here, since the Republicans continue to shoot at him (the International Republican Institute delegation, led by Congressman Porter Goss, a former CIA station chief, was the only one to denounce the process and now has a bill blocking aid to Haiti) and as the presidential race heats up, Clinton needs the foreign policy victory and he is certainly hoping to cash in with the hundreds of thousands of Haitian-American voters.