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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’ombre d’Aristide sur des élections sans illusions

by By Francoise Escarpit

Aristide’s shadow over Haiti’s elections

Translated by John O’Neil

Translated Monday 20 February 2006, by John O’Neil

Haiti: The first round of general elections in a country consumed by violence and a shortage of perspectives.

Port-au-Prince, special correspondent

More than 3.5 million Haitians voted on February 7th, overseen by numerous foreign observers and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) peacekeepers, two years after the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide now living in exile.

In February 2004, a multinational interim force, with French troops participating, took position in Haiti and particularly in Port-au-Prince. The goal was to curb the violence that armed bands of Aristide supporters stirred up. It was experienced by many Haitians as a thinly-veiled invasion. In the following June, the force was relieved by the MINUSTAH, whose mandate was to be completed in February 2006. Its mandate was prolonged due to the elections being pushed back four times.

The end of the transition process

With 33 candidates for President and more than 1,300 for the 129 seats in the National Assembly (30 in the Senate and 99 in the Chamber of Deputies) these elections should, in theory, mark the end of the transition process. Polling stations were put in place all over the country. Haitians had plastic-coated national photo identification cards which replaced voter registration cards. The paper ballots wereready with photos of the candidates also identifiable by number and one or several colors.

However, these elections, initially slated for last November, were far from carrying the hopes of the 2004 popular movement. The 184 group, which brought together CEOs and unionists, various religious leaders and diverse personalities as well as a wide range of political organizations, has broken up without a plan of action for the elections.

Prime-Minister Gerard Latortue, chosen by a "Council of Eminent Persons" in 2004 to ensure the transition, had hardly advanced at all. He was not been able to resolve the impossible problem of reconciling the rich and poor, the urban and rural and the inland and coastal Haitians.

In spite of the peacekeepers, weapons have been always circulating and insecurity remained an important problem in the capital.

Production is nonexistent. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line and 40% of the country’s revenues are from the money sent by Haitians living abroad.

Corruption and greed

The ballots were a mosaic of personal interests on February 7th. Jean-Bertrand Aristide always benefited politically from a fragmented Haitian society. He’s still "Father Titid" to the poor in spite of his corruption, greed, and connections to drug cartels.

Rene Preval, Aristide’s former prime minister and President from 1996 to 2001, led in unofficial polls. Many said it would be a catastrophe if Preval was going to win the first round because he had no program and would be incapable of uniting the country. He has actively prepared for his return to office and was the projected winner with 51.15% of the vote although the result were disputed.

Among the other candidates the Christian Democrat Leslie Manigat stood out. A historian and political scientist, he was President briefly in 1986 after the fall of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. If Manigat, who favored radical reform, had made it past the first round, he could have carried the votes of the very fragmented left. He came in second place with about 12% of the vote.

Rene Preval is expected to take office March 29th.

This article was published in L’Huma after the first round of the Haitian elections, in which Rene Preval was declared leader, but not winner of the majority of votes caste (50% + 1). The second round was never held following the discovery of some 10,000 burnt, completed ballot papers in a garbage dump. With civil disorder mounting and Preval’s supporters increasingly angry at the electoral fraud, the International Observer Commission declared Rene Preval the winner. (Editor’s postscript)

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