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Election soup leaves a big mess

From This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 13, no. 14. 28 June - 4 July 1995

By all accounts, the US-sponsored local and parliamentary elections that took place this week in Haiti were a fiasco -- polling booths failed to open, voters' names weren't on the electoral register, official candidates didn't appear on ballots, election materials were scarce, and confusion reigned.

The election results will not be officially announced for another week or ten days, thus leaving space for everything from fraud to old fashioned horse-trading.

To salvage what they can from the disastrous polling, US officials are pointing to the supposed lack of violence and of Haitian democratic traditions. A peaceful balloting process occurred in a country where violence has so often marked past elections, opined Brian Atwood, the head of the US Agency for International Development (AID), which provided some $11.3 million in electoral assistance to more than a half dozen organizations. (Of course, past violence came from thugs in the employ of US-supported military regimes, like that of Generals Henri Namphy and Williams Regala in 1987.)

However, violence this week was not lacking. The voting bureau in Kenscoff was burned to the ground. In Carrefour, a gunman shot and wounded an election official at a voting station. After election offices were attacked and ballots burned, voting was canceled in the northern towns of Limbe, Dondon, and Le Borgne. A candidate for Deputy, Jean-Charles Henoc, was shot twice in the head and killed in the southern town of Anse d'Hainault. In Leogane, the head of the voting station disappeared June 26. Several candidates around the country were attacked and one candidate's driver was killed. Still, the Associated Press' Anita Snow declared such violence minor when compared with the bloodbath that marked the 1987 elections, in which dozens of would-be voters were massacred by rampaging Duvalierists.

Haiti's elections on Sunday were, by any reasonable standard, a success, the June 26 Washington Post said with customary arrogance. If you look at it overall, I think its positive, added Micheline Begin, the deputy director of the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral mission.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), the US-funded and Haitian government-appointed organization that ran the elections, also gave a favorable, albeit muted, verdict. We are the first to admit to organizational weakness, said CEP president Anselme Remy shortly after the election. We didn't have the means or the time. Despite the weaknesses, the elections are a victory for the Haitian people.

The perspective from the Haitian people was decidedly different. The most telling figure was the low voter turnout -- anywhere from 25 to 50 percent depending on the estimates. With more than 10,000 candidates and 10,000 polling places lined up for two- thirds of the Senate seats, the entire Chamber of Deputies, and some 700 local and communal boards and councils, plus the radio/TV spots and official encouragement, one might have expected a larger turnout. The lack of response from the population casts even greater doubt on the CEP's claim to have enrolled a record 3.5 million voters, 300,000 more than were eligible in the 1990 elections.

The National Popular Assembly (APN) congratulated the Haitian people for demonstrating its vigilance and political maturity when the majority of the population chose to stay home and not participate in the bogus elections organized by the occupation forces. For weeks before the election debacle, the APN had organized a nationwide campaign to abstain. June 25 more than 70% of those of voting age stayed home, the June 27 APN statement said. Hooray (Ayibobo) for them.

The elections were not held under circumstances determined by the Haitian people themselves, and, as such, they did not participate. Even those who did take part, most observers agree, did so largely because President Aristide, who still enjoys substantial support, asked people to vote bo tab la, i.e. for the Lavalas Platform with its table logo.

Observers predict that most voters did cast their ballot bo tab la which explains why most Haitian political parties, micro and otherwise, are now screaming foul. Everyone from Evans Paul's National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD) and Victor Benoit's Konakom, to open putschist like Leslie Manigat and Hubert de Ronceray, stand to lose a substantial presence in the trough of corruption that is the Parliament. Thus, many have called for the elections to be annulled, apparently an opening play in coming negotiations.

Despite the protests from the established political parties, the eagerness with which US, UN and OAS officials endorsed the balloting for some 2000 governmental positions around Haiti hardly comes as a surprise. Desperate for an international victory, the UN and US have pushed hard for the elections to take place in order to legitimize the US-led intervention and occupation of Haiti in the face of widespread disenchantment. The complete lack of justice, the high cost of living, massive unemployment, and continued insecurity only underscore the failure of the US-led intervention to deliver anything substantive to the Haitian people.

The chaotic vote will bring a growing torrent of trouble in the days ahead, especially after results are announced. The US will probably try to ram the elections through all protest. But it is clear that the June 25th elections were a major setback in the democratic transition. Haiti is rapidly turning back into its old unpredictable self.

Follow the money: USAID direct funding for Haiti's elections

$6.84 million to UN Elections Assistance Unit for the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

$1.9 million to International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to provide election ballots.

$1.2 million to OAS for election monitors.

$490,000 to the CEP for technical assistance.

$300,000 to IFES for training of electoral workers.

$270,000 to National Democratic Institute (NDI) for electoral training, party building and civic education.

$300,000 to American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) for supporting trade unions in voter education and getting out the vote.

Total CEP Funding: US -- $10.5 million; European Union -- $2.5 million; Canada -- $1.5 million; France -- $1 million; Japan -- $500,000. The vast majority of the CEP's funding comes from foreign governments.

Partial list that does not include election-related activities of groups like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or the International Republican Institute (IRI). Source: Voices for Haiti.