[News] Electoral Exclusion of Lavalas in Haiti

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 16 12:14:10 EDT 2009


April 16, 2009

Electoral Exclusion in Haiti

Obama's First Foreign Policy Disaster?


The Obama administration and the international 
community have largely remained silent the past 
two weeks concerning a decision by Haiti's 
election council to move forward with 
controversial Senate elections scheduled for 
April 19. A visit in early March by former 
president Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General 
Ban Ki-Moon to ‘draw attention to Haiti and 
promote development,' an international donors 
conference on Haiti held in Washington D.C. 
yesterday, and Secretary of State Hillary 
Clinton's visit to Haiti today, have only 
temporarily distracted attention away from the controversial election.

The apparent decision to green light the 
contentious ballot follows a ruling by Haiti's 
Provisional Election Council or CEP to exclude 
the Fanmi Lavalas party of former president 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide on procedural grounds. 
Haitian president Rene Preval met with Secretary 
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington on 
Feb. 5. The election council's decision to 
disqualify all of the Fanmi Lavalas party's 
candidates was announced the following day. Major 
stakeholders in Haiti such as the U.S., Brazil, 
Canada and France have to worry whether excluding 
Lavalas from the upcoming ballot will be seen as 
undemocratic and call into question the validity of the elections.

Lavalas, which means flashflood, is a political 
party and social movement in Haiti. Its roots 
begin at the break between the Duvalier appointed 
hierarchy of the Catholic Church and independent 
parish communities known as "Ti Legliz" or the 
Little Church. Lavalas has served as the largest 
base of Haiti's electorate since it galvanized 
around Aristide's first successful candidacy for 
president in 1990. Preval's election victory in 
2006, and the success of his Lespwa party, is 
widely seen as a result of support from the Lavalas electorate.

Factions of the Fanmi Lavalas party originally 
presented two slates of candidates to the CEP for 
the upcoming Senate elections scheduled for April 
19. After the CEP demanded they present a single 
slate, the Fanmi Lavalas party's leadership 
managed to hammer out a compromise list of 
candidates in time to meet the deadline. The CEP 
refused to accept their applications on the 
grounds they did not have Aristide's personal 
signature from exile in South Africa as the 
National Representative of the Fanmi Lavalas 
party. One analyst close to the CEP and who spoke 
on condition of anonymity commented, "It didn't 
really matter what Lavalas did. The result was 
always going to be the same. There was more 
division within Lavalas and greater procedural 
irregularities with their candidates in the 
elections of 2006. The only difference is they 
needed them to provide legitimacy to those 
elections. The political infighting only provided 
the CEP with a convenient excuse to exclude them. 
They don't feel they need them [Lavalas] to 
legitimize the April 19 elections. "

Most observers acknowledge that Aristide and the 
Lavalas movement continue to be a force to reckon 
with in Haiti. It's said that no other social 
movement in Haiti, before or since, has shown 
more resiliency and commitment. They elected 
Aristide president in Dec. 1990 and the movement 
was forced to survive three years of brutal 
military repression after he was ousted in Sept. 
1991. Aristide's second ouster in Feb. 2004 was 
followed by two years of intense repression that 
included well-documented instances of summary 
executions by the Haitian police, killing of 
unarmed demonstrators and the mass imprisonment of Lavalas supporters.

During the last presidential elections of 2006 
the Lavalas movement was unable to field its 
desired candidate, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who 
was being held in jail on trumped up charges. 
Lavalas then threw their weight behind Preval's 
candidacy as a means to end the severe repression 
of the U.S.-backed Latortue regime, free 
political prisoners and return Aristide from 
exile. When the elections of 2006 were nearly 
stolen through fraud, it was thousands of Lavalas 
demonstrators supporting Preval who were 
responsible for shutting down Haiti's capital for over a week.

As further testimony to the endurance of the 
Lavalas movement in Haiti, nearly ten thousand 
supporters took to the streets of the capital to 
protest on the five-year anniversary of the 
second coup against Aristide this past Feb. 28. 
Most protestors called for the Preval government 
and the United Nations to allow Aristide to 
return to Haiti while others used it as a 
platform to condemn the recent decision of the 
CEP. Chants directly accusing Preval and his 
government of being behind the CEP's decision to 
exclude Lavalas from democratic elections were 
heard in the streets of the capital.

On March 9, former president Bill Clinton and 
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in 
Haiti with several ‘business leaders' and 
celebrities. Their much touted visit received 
wide press coverage that distracted attention 
away from another important event. That same day 
Haitian judge Jean-Claude Douyon ruled, "The 
political rights of Lavalas have been violated," 
and he ordered "the reintegration of candidates 
of that party, if they each individually meet the 
legal standards." On April 3, Preval's Minister 
of Justice Jean-Joseph Exumé fired Douyon 
accusing him of corruption in a seemingly 
unrelated case. Douyon has since made it clear in 
the Haitian press he believes the move is in 
retaliation for his ruling ordering the CEP to 
include Lavalas in the upcoming elections. He 
further claims Exumé threatened him not to take 
the case and made it clear the Preval 
government's constitutional interpretation is the 
judiciary has no jurisdiction to overrule a CEP decision.

This interpretation makes Preval's handpicked 
election council "the final arbiter" in any 
dispute related to the electoral process. 
Ironically, that was the same position taken by 
the Latortue regime in Feb. 2006 when it tried to 
use the CEP to stack the deck against Preval. 
Their decision was final and there was no appeal 
until burning tires and massive crowds blocked 
every major intersection of the capital finally 
forcing them and their patrons in the 
international community to back down. As the 
analyst close to the CEP put it, "Anyone who 
remembers the ‘Belgian Option' knows who was 
really pulling the strings," referring to the 
face saving solution where Belgian electoral law 
was invoked to count thousands of blank ballots. 
Under Haitian law blank ballots are discarded but 
in in Belgium they are divided evenly among all 
the candidates. After thousands of discarded 
ballots were discovered in public dumping sites 
throughout the capital, the U.S., France and 
Canada agreed to use this irregular measure to 
return a majority of the ballot count to Preval. 
That unprecedented decision bore no relationship 
to Haiti's constitution and has called into 
question the legitimacy of official rulings on 
electoral law by the CEP ever since.

The Washington-based group the Haiti Priorities 
Project recently dispatched a team of 70 
pollsters throughout Haiti. According to their 
findings, "Only 5% of potential voters nationwide 
say they are ready to go to the polls in order to 
elect 12 senators for the upcoming elections on 
April of this year." In polling from several 
areas of Haiti they make it clear that, "The 
majority who participated in the survey intend to 
stay home due to the inconsistency exhibited by 
the administration of President Préval and the 
international community wanting to practice 
[electoral] exclusion, a system in which the 
people have been rejected since the fall of 
Duvalier 1986." If there polling is correct, the 
upcoming elections in Haiti may be first real 
foreign disaster of the Obama administration since it took office.

Kevin Pina is a journalist and film maker who 
divides his time living in California and Haiti. 
Pina reported extensively from Haiti for 
FLASHPOINTS, a radio program heard daily on KPFA, 
the flagship station of the Pacifica Network. He 
is also the Founding Editor of the Haiti 
Information Project (HIP), an alternative news 
agency operating in Port au Prince, Haiti.

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