The Guardian 21 September, 2005

Major party iced in Haiti

Tim Pelzer

With the first round of elections set to begin in about eight weeks, Haiti is still not ready to hold free and fair multiparty elections. More than half of Haiti’s population remains unregistered to vote. Further, the country’s largest political party, Famni Lavalas, remains unofficially banned. Local, regional, national and presidential elections are scheduled for November 20, with a runoff on January 3 if needed.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) reported on September 1 that it has only registered 2.2 million out of 4.5 million eligible voters. As a result, the council announced that registration will likely be extended beyond the September 15 registration deadline. However, Brian D. Concannon Jr, director of the Oregon-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, charged, "Registration is disproportionately among voters that might support the government. For example, in late July there were three registration offices in upscale Petionville, which supports the government, none in [the poorer] Cité Soleil or the entire Central Plateau Department. There will be a maximum of 427 centres, which isn’t enough in a country where most people don’t have cars. Many people will have more than a day’s walk to register."

The United Nations, which is sponsoring the elections, says that 45 political parties will take part. "We believe in an inclusive electoral process because it confers a profound legitimacy", said UN Mission head Juan Gabriel Valdes. However, the Lavalas party says that the government is blocking its participation in the elections.

"This government has carried out a violent repression of Lavalas with the goal of eliminating it as a viable party", said Lavalas leader Moďse Jean Charles. He points out that of the election commission’s nine members, seven are members of the anti-Lavalas Group of 184, and two are non-aligned. "Over 45 percent of Lavalas leaders have been either imprisoned, driven into hiding or killed. How can anyone support an election under these conditions?" he asked.

As another illustration of the political climate, Haitian police recently arrested Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a high-profile Lavalas activist. While police searched Jean-Juste’s presbytery on September 9, they also arrested two journalists covering their actions. Kevin Pina, a US filmmaker, and Jean Ristil, a Haitian journalist, were jailed for two days until the Haitian authorities yielded to domestic and international calls for their release.

Lavalas spokespersons said that the party will only participate in the elections if the government and CEP resigns, exiles are allowed to return, political prisoners are freed, police raids against poor neighbourhoods cease and all armed groups are disarmed.

Critics charge that the government’s repression of Lavalas is part of a broader plan to appease world opinion while keeping Lavalas out of power. Concannon calls the election plan a process of "electoral cleansing" in which the US, Canada, France, the UN and the Haitian government want to have elections with as much participation as possible, "as long as there is no risk that the voters will make the wrong choice (again)", added Concannon, alluding to Haiti’s three previous national elections where voters chose Lavalas.

"They need to have elections that satisfy lightly informed world public opinion", Concannon said. "They are working on both the supply and demand ends, putting good candidates in jail, while getting a skewed voter pool."

In related news, four former Lavalas parliamentarians registered Lavalas with the CEP on August 8 for the upcoming elections. The party’s exiled leadership quickly condemned the registration. The Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network’s Marguerite Laurence stated, "Three [of the] parliamentarians who registered Lavalas were in jail at some point and, unlike the rest [other jailed Lavalas leaders], were released. The speculation is that they made a deal amenable to the powers that be." A human rights monitor in Haiti said anonymously, "I would be prepared for some surprises, including the possibility of a US-­supported ‘Lavalas’ candidate. If they did this, they would finish off much of what is left of the movement [Lavalas] and still have control over the government."

People’s Weekly World

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