Haitian elections a source of new conflict

The November 28 general elections in Haiti are over, and the votes will probably be counted by December 7. But as many predicted, the task of carrying out a national election may have proved too much for Haiti’s administrative infrastructure, in a shambles due to the January 12 earthquake which killed as many as 250,000 people (including government officials), destroyed most public buildings in the country, and forced massive numbers into unsanitary squatter camps.

To the woes of the earthquake have been added those of Hurricane Tomas and a cholera epidemic. Moreover, only a small proportion of promised international aid has actually arrived.

The election was held to choose a new president, 10 of the 30 senators and the entire 99 person lower house of the national legislature. It was originally scheduled for February 28, but was delayed because of the earthquake.

Toward the end of 2009, the Provisional Election Council, C.E.P., had refused to certify the candidates of the largest party in the country, Fanmi Lavalas, which is headed by former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. From his forced exile in South Africa, Aristide sent in a faxed document with his signature endorsing the list of Fanmi Lavalas candidates, but the C.E.P. refused to accept it, saying that Aristide would have had to come to Haiti personally to sign the document. So no Fanmi Lavalas candidates appeared on the ballot, which led to early charges that the election was illegitimate and unrepresentative.

Several other candidates were also knocked off the ballot including rapper Wyclef Jean, ruled ineligible because he resides mostly in the United States.

There is much at stake in these elections. The winning presidential candidate will have a major say in the direction of Haiti’s long and short-term development strategy.

The major powers that impact Haiti economically (the United States, France and Canada) want to see a strategy based on direct foreign investment, which means that Haiti should continue to be the location of runaway industry attracted by low wages and taxes.

However, there is an alternative strategy, which would entail integrating Haiti into one or several of the regional multinational bodies which have been developed as a counterweight to US economic and political influence, including the radical ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our America).

When in power, Aristide had demanded that France reimburse Haiti for the billions it had extorted at gunpoint in the 19th century, an action that arguably led to his overthrow with French and US support. For some the name of the game is to stop any force that might return Haiti to such radical stances.

On election day, there was massive frustration for as many as hundreds of thousands of Haitians who showed up to vote and were turned away because their names were not on polling lists. There were some complaints of intimidation and ballot stuffing, plus street protests and disturbances leading to at least 2 deaths.

Later on election day, 12 of the 18 candidates listed on the presidential ballot held a news conference in which they denounced the elections as rigged and demanded the results be invalidated. These candidates included Mirlande Manigat (a former first lady), Michel Martelly (a popular rapper), Jean-Henry Céant (backed by many Aristide supporters), plus former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. To cheers from the audience, they accused the incumbent president, Rene Preval, of deliberate fraud in favor of his Inite (Unity) Party’s candidate, construction executive Jude Celestin. Election authorities indignantly denied that there had been more than minor problems.

Preval is highly unpopular because of his perceived mishandling of the earthquake disaster response among other things. Even more unpopular is MINUSTAH, the United Nations military and civilian force which has been in Haiti since Aristide was overthrown for the second time in 2004, and which has had many violent clashes with slum residents.

However, on Monday Manigat and Martelly distanced themselves from the protest, evidently because preliminary results showed them ahead. Ceant was also among the leaders of the vote. Celestin is reportedly doing poorly.

Also on Monday, election observers from the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and others said that they had found only minor problems and that the results should stand.

It is expected that vote counting will end on December 7. If, as is probable, candidates for any office, including the presidency, do not get fifty percent of the vote, there will be a runoff on January 16.

Photo: Haitians wait in line to cast their vote during general elections in Cap Haitien, Haiti, Nov. 28. Haitians went to the polls in the midst of a cholera epidemic that killed more than 1,600 people and hospitalized thousands as the country was still recovering from a catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake. Emilio Morenatti/AP



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.