[News] Electoral Exclusion of Lavalas in Haiti
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?
By KEVIN PINA
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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