They called an election in Haiti and almost nobody came. Turnout April 19 to vote for 12 open Senate seats was variously estimated at 3 to 10 percent. U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson was not discouraged: “Off-year elections in the United States as well as in other countries tend not be as well-attended as presidential elections.”
An AP headline suggested violence kept people away: ‘Few Vote in Haiti after Clash in City.’ But independent observers say apart from a minor fracas in the Central Plateau city of Mirebalais, all was quiet.
That was because the majority party was excluded and for large numbers the voting did not exist. Judge Jean-Claude Douyon ruled in March that Haiti’s Provisional Election Council (CEP) must allow the Fanmi Lavalas party’s Senate candidates to compete. Douyon was subsequently removed without explanation and his opinion disregarded.
Lavalas is the party that twice propelled Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti’s presidency. Aristide was removed by a U.S.-arranged coup in February 2004.
Under CEP rules, candidates must be authenticated by a party leader’s signature in order to participate in elections. Divided Lavalas factions came together so that Aristide, in exile in South Africa, could supply a signature for a unity slate of Lavalas candidates. That protracted process fell apart when the CPE refused to accept Aristide’s facsimile signature arriving just prior to the deadline.
Operation Open Door, associated with Lavalas, organized an election boycott. On Election Day, five disallowed Senate candidates fasted in the parliament building, provoking an arrest order from President Rene Preval, formerly allied with Lavalas. A day later, thousands of supporters fended off National Police and UN troops, allowing the hunger strikers to escape.
Boycott leader Rene Civil extolled “the non-violent resistance of the Haitian people to undemocratic elections. There is no way they will be able to call senators elected in this process legitimate. You cannot hold elections [without] the majority political party.”
A group called Popular Initiative protested Washington’s endorsement of the flawed election and called for removal of the U.S. ambassador. A spokesperson rejected her notion of voter fatigue: “Allow Fanmi Lavalas to participate and we’ll show you the voters have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for an authentic democratic process.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Port au Prince three days before the voting was seen as highlighting U.S. complicity in the process.
Analyst Kevin Pina condemned Ambassador Sanderson, a Bush holdover, “for pressuring the Preval administration to issue arrest warrants for 42 of the organizers of the election boycott.” Over the radio Sanderson had demanded they be investigated.
Lavalas leader Ronald Fareau excoriated international donors: “They spent over $17 million on another electoral fraud in Haiti while our people continue to suffer from malnutrition and illiteracy.” In advance of the election the UN reported on the arrival in Haiti of 100 tons of election equipment, divided into 12,000 voting kits.
Popular Initiative and other groups allied to Lavalas announced at a press conference last week they would re-energize the campaign to return President Aristide from exile. They are pointing toward mass rallies in May and June that would also protest “growing misery and poverty.” Rene Civil worried that without Lavalas in the Senate the Preval government would be able to force through privatization of the state-operated national telephone company and the National Port Authority.