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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Warning: Another Political Crisis Brewing in Haiti by Stanley Lucas

Since 1994 the root of every single political crisis in Haiti has been electoral manipulation by the Lavalas ruling party. With the upcoming Senate elections, this is again becoming a cause for serious concern. Four months ago the Preval Administration appointed an electoral body so partisan that analysts are now saying the situation is as bad as the old days of dictatorial manipulated elections. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ignoring the 2006 Reforms ----------------------------------------------------------
Haiti has organized seven elections since 1990. Of these, only the 1990 elections were fully free and fair, two were partially fair and the remaining four were manipulated. In 2006 with the support of the international community a decision was made to strengthen the electoral system in Haiti and ensure that the vote would be properly counted. The interim government led by Gerard Latortue was very open to instituting transparency and good electoral management. To overcome the traditional mistrust of the electoral process in Haiti, the Latortue government reached out to all the political parties and civil society actors and asked them to propose members to sit on the non partisan and independent electoral commission. Latortue went even further by precluding high level officials from his interim government to run for office unless they resigned. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
These trust building measures combined with the consensus that was reached between the government, the electoral authorities, political parties and civil society, allowed the formulation of an electoral decree capable of preventing abuses by the government and election managers. A series of technical procedures and safeguards were put in place to avoid manipulation of the ballot counting, and a tabulation center was created with the Electoral Council. Two men played an important role in that effort: Francois Benoit, a member of the electoral board, and the director general Jacques Bernard. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
These efforts reinstated the confidence of the electorate in the process for the 2006 elections. All the political parties and their candidates for mayors, deputies, senators and president registered. Voter registration hit record highs, and on election day the turnout was 63 percent. The electoral authorities made an honest mistake by counting the preliminary results publicly not anticipating the confusion it would cause. The voters, who are relatively uneducated and inexperienced with democratic elections, were confused by the changing margins of the lead candidate, Rene Preval, as vote counting continued throughout the evening. The Preval campaign took advantage of this confusion and led the voters to believe that the results were being manipulated when in fact the percentages were diminishing as results were coming in from precincts were Preval support was low. Since he did not get the legally required votes needed to win in the first round, Preval, forecasting a possible majority coalition around the second in place, Leslie Manigat, decided to force a political decision to avoid a runoff. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Preval engaged several tactics to force that political decision. Using an ally in the Electoral Council they obtained some unused ballots that they planted on the roadside on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince to be discovered by passers by. This gave the impression that ballots were not properly secured and galvanized voters into a frenzy. None of the information spread by the Preval camp was accurate. Later on Preval released the mob in the streets of Port-au-Prince chanting without a Preval victory the city will be burned. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
When the final count was done, Preval did not have the vote needed to avoid the runoff but achieved his goal of creating enough suspicion about electoral manipulation that it was impossible to organize a second round without violence. The Latin countries that have troops deployed in Haiti and the United Nations representatives already favored Preval. The Brazilian ambassador, according to international press accounts, used diplomatic pressure to make the case that a run off election would be impossible and that the international community should get behind Preval. In direct contradiction to the electoral law, they recommended that the Electoral Council count the blank ballots for Preval. Preval was declared the winner, and the election was declared a success despite this grievous breach of law.
In addition to the President, 99 deputies, 30 senators, 140 mayors were elected. The voters were satisfied, and most parties agreed that the first round of the presidential election was free and fair without government manipulation. Others had lingering doubts and felt that some actors of the international community from Latin America -- led by Brazil and two cabinet members of the Latortue government -- deprived them of a legitimate run off by ignoring the electoral law and making a political decision to declare Preval the winner without the 50% plus one vote required. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Undoing the 2006 Reforms -----------------------------------------------------------
There was still work to be done to complete the 2006 electoral process though. As stipulated by the 2006 reforms, the electoral authorities were to complete indirect elections necessary to organize a permanent electoral council. Six months after Preval's inauguration, his ambivalence toward the completion of the 2006 elections cast doubts among experts. In fact, Preval prevented the electoral authorities from completing the indirect elections. He also prevented the organization of the elections for 11 senate seats scheduled for November 16, 2007. Then in December 2007 Preval unexpectedly dissolved the Board of the independent election commission appointed to organize the 2006 elections, and replaced it with close political allies. Of the nine members of the electoral commission installed by Preval only one is independent. Preval effectively undermined all the safeguards put in place by the previous election commission and changed the internal rules of the electoral commission body.
In addition to tinkering with the electoral body, Preval has hand picked a group of senate candidates for the upcoming elections that are linked to past political violence and drug trafficking in Haiti, thus setting the stage for manipulation and a new major electoral crisis. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Preval has an abysmal record on democracy. He presided over the manipulation of the elections in April 6, 1997, and the May 21, 2000 and November 26, 2000 elections. During these elections, Preval put in place a partisan electoral body, issued decrees giving him control of the electoral machinery, and used the state institutions and resources, including the police, to manipulate the results of these elections. The president of the 2000 electoral council had the seek political asylum in the United States to avoid certain death because of his refusal to rubber stamp the results fabricated by Preval. After the manipulation of the May 21, 2000 elections Preval and Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis ignored the recommendations of the international community and went ahead to manipulate the elections of November 26, 2000, which only had a three percent turnout rate. Voters knew what they were doing. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Efforts to Undo Democratic Reforms ----------------------------------------------
As a member of Venezuelan President Chavez’s ALBA coalition, Preval seems to follow the pattern set by former Cuban President Fidel Castro and President Chavez by trying to illegally amend the Haitian constitution. The constitution has been the only safeguard that has prevented both the military and elected presidents, in particular Jean-Bertrand Aristide from dragging the country back to a dictatorship. Ignoring the constitutional provisions to initiate a constitutional amendment Preval secretly appointed a two man commission to develop and promote a new constitution that bolsters president power and eliminates many democratic safeguards. Claude Moise and Cary Hector joined by Michele Duvivier Pierre Louis were tasked with leading the constitutional reform initiative for Preval. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The majority of Haitian society remains skeptical of this agenda and are puzzled by Preval’s focus on constitutional reform when the country is facing an economic and security crisis. Meanwhile, the private sector associates of President Preval, the monopolists, that control every sector of the Haitian economy because of their access to political power and corruption have mounted an offensive in Washington, DC to sell this idea of amending the constitution. They have so far recruited one organization and an influential analyst from a major think tank who also is investing heavily in biodiesel in Haiti with the Haitian monopolists, a definite conflict of interest. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Meanwhile the country is facing major challenges. In two years Preval and Alexis have delivered nothing to the Haitian people. The President and Prime Minister have only demonstrated an interest in keeping power rather than addressing the priorities of the country. Unemployment is at 78 percent, people are starving and the country is on the brink of a new wave of protests. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Since removing Prime Minister Alexis with a vote of no confidence on April 12, the country is awaiting the appointment of a new Prime Minister. The President’s role is to pick a candidate for Prime Minister after negotiating with Members of Parliament thus ensuring his ratification. Preval has failed to do that, ignoring Parliament and putting forth two candidates that have been shot down. His lack of coordination has wasted valuable time. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
However, this chaos with naming a Prime Minister recalls Preval’s previous solution to a similar problem. On January 11, 1999, Preval illegally dissolved Parliament after naming two prime minister candidates that were rejected. Preval is clearly trying to invoke this precedent by putting forth weak candidates forcing Parliament to reject them, and look combative in the process. For their part, Members of Parliament are concerned by their reelection. The Executive Branch has blocked their efforts to make any meaningful reform and tied them up with having to focus on shooting down incompetent leaders. President Preval has just selected a third candidate. This time around, however, Preval seems to have realized that efforts to dissolve Parliament will not be tolerated by the public, and he will be ousted. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
An Administration of Criminals ----------------------------------------------------
Haiti is also under a surge of kidnappings and violence. Women, school children, artists, professionals, and all other sectors of society have been a victims of kidnappings, torture and execution. The last one that rocked the country was the kidnapping of a 16 year old student that was tortured and killed after his parents paid the US$75,000 ransom. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Many Haitians attribute the surge to government policies and questionable individuals hired by the President. In 2006, President Preval inaugurated a policy of negotiating with criminals that was decried by the Haitian people. He also hired incompetent people with criminal records to manage the dangerous security situation. They are perceived by the population as the sponsors of the kidnappings and the protectors of gangs leaders. Patrick Elie, a man linked to torture under Aristide’s first term and was deported from the U.S. after spending three years in a U.S. jail for criminal behavior, was named by President Preval as the President of the country’s National Security Council. Haitian citizens were shocked by that nomination. Haitian-Americans were equally insulted by U.S. officials taking meetings with this known criminal. Jean Philippe Jean Baptiste, alias Samba Boukman, an Aristide gang leader, was name by President Preval as the number two in charge of the Presidential Security Commission. Samba Boukman intiated Operation Baghdad 1 in 2004, according to the Haitian Network to Defend Human Rights ( -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Through his Operation Baghdad 1, Boukman and his cronies murdered 1,941 Haitian citizens, among them 109 police officers. They kidnapped more than 500 citizens and raped more than 400 women. Operation Baghdad 2 killed, kidnapped and raped about the same numbers of Haitian citizens. When President Preval traveled to Washington, DC in early 2008, Samba Boukman was a member of his delegation. Boukman was denied access to the White House, but visited the State Department.
There are twelve individuals with similar nefarious backgrounds currently serving in senior government positions in the Preval Administration, and five others that are generally considered to be completely lacking qualifications to serve in their position, including Robert Manuel, Alix Fils Aime and Pierre Denize. The popular perception among the Haitian citizens is that kidnapping is sponsored by the government and is used as a political tool as well when politically necessary. The have the capability to lower or higher the volume of kidnappings to punish the Haitian citizenry. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Role of the International Community ----------------------------------------
The international community in Haiti is factionalized. The United States, Canada and France shares the same view. The Latin American countries, led by Brazil, have their view. and the Chavez and Castro agenda is different from the others. The Organization of American States does not want to interfere in the selection of a new Prime Minister, and the United Nations is deeply involved in the process. Is it because the Haitian spokeperson is using that organization to launch her presidential bid in Haiti? The international community is currently facing a dilemma. They are in Haiti to support the Haitian people through the Haitian government. But the government has manipulated the OAS and the UN mission as a tool to maintain power. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Haitian people are planning protests for the coming weeks and months. The international dilemma will be how to balance their actions between a government that is increasingly unpopular that they vow to protect, and the Haitian people protesting in mass. Past experience shows that in Haiti once the protests start, they do not stop until the leaders resign. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recommendations for Progress --------------------------
Address the Crisis in the Haitian Leadership: ---------------------------------
The President should name a candidate of consensus for Prime Minister in consultations with parliament. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The outgoing Minister of Planning seems to be a candidate of consensus. He presented a plan to reduce poverty that was accepted by various sectors of Haitian society and the international community. His plan according to the President will be the guiding principles of the next government. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Prime Minister in consultations with the President and Parliament should name a Cabinet that is formed of experienced, honest and capable people. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Improving the Security Situation: -------------------------------------------------
The President should remove the members of the various presidential security commissions put in place since 2006.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The president should allow the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice to do their job as the constitution requires. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Avoiding an Electoral Crisis:---------------------------------------------------------
The current Haitian Electoral Board should be reshuffled to allow more credible people to serve, including Francois Benoit, a prominent former member of the electoral board credited largely with the successful aspects of the 2006 elections. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The political parties and civil society must work on a strategy to prevent the manipulation of the upcoming Senate elections by the Preval Administration----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The technical procedures and the tabulations center should be reinstated -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The former director general of the Electoral Council, Jacques Bernard, who organized the 2006 elections should be reappointed. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The electoral law must be carefully revised by parliament to strip the recently added undemocratic provisions -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The current internal rules of the electoral commission adopted last week should be eliminated and replaced by the rules of 2006, which were more in line with international democratic principles. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
International Community Support: ------------------------------------------------
Since 1990, the international community contributed 65 percent of the financial expenditures for seven elections. They have a financial stake in the success of this process. The United States and the international community should uniformly demonstrate support for free and fair elections in Haiti by sending an important signal to the Preval government that draws the line on what would be unacceptable. The mistakes of May 21 and November 26, 2000 elections must be avoided -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The U.S. General Accounting Office should initiate an investigation on the use of U.S. taxpayer funds in Haiti and ensure none of these funds are supporting convicted or non convicted criminals. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The United States Congress should ensure that no criminals are involved in programs funded with U.S. taxpayers funds. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The U.S. Administration should support free and fair elections in Haiti organized by a non partisan and independent electoral body ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The assault against the constitution must stopped

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