By Jonathan M. Katz, The Huffington Post
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s electoral council has barred members of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s popular political party from running in the upcoming Senate election, prompting statements of concern from the United States and Canada.
All candidates of Aristide’s Famni Lavalas Party were rejected for the April 19 election _ in most cases because their documents lacked the signature of party leader Aristide, council president Frantz G. Verret said Friday. Aristide has been in exile in South Africa since 2004.
Lavalas leaders pledged to fight the decision. Electoral officials had assured the party in December that leaders in Haiti could sign for their candidates, said Maryse Narcisse, the head of Lavalas’ executive council.
“We think these are political machinations,” Narcisse told The Associated Press. “Famni Lavalas followed the law. … I think this is a provocation.”
The electoral council said its decision is final on all 17 Lavalas candidates and 23 others who were rejected, including former rebel leader Guy Philippe, whose rebels helped oust Aristide five years ago.
“These are decisions without appeal,” Verret told The Associated Press in an interview.
But both Aristide and his party enjoy widespread popularity in Haiti, especially among the urban poor. Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers blocked traffic near the electoral council’s headquarters to guard against potential protests.
Prominent members of the international community, who are largely responsible for funding Haiti’s elections, called for dialogue.
The U.S. Embassy called it “a matter of great concern that a decision was adopted that prevents all candidates of a particular party from participating in the next electoral contest,” and called on all involved to “keep the doors open to dialogue and debate.”
Canadian Ambassador Gilles Rivard also issued a statement of concern.
“Elections are a symbol of democracy which must unite, not divide, the population,” the statement said.
Lavalas party infighting also might have hurt its chances as rival factions submitted two separate lists of candidates _ both of which were rejected.
The exclusions leave 65 candidates to contest 12 open seats.
President Rene Preval’s Lespwa party could benefit from Friday’s decision because it had a candidate approved in all 10 departments _ including two in the Artibonite department, where two senators will be elected.
The Lavalas party’s support was a significant factor in Preval’s 2006 electoral victory.
Preval was in Washington this week, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and attended a prayer breakfast hosted by President Barack Obama.
Verret said the council’s deliberations regarding Philippe were confidential. Philippe has been living in hiding and is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.
Candidates were certified for the election based on documents that proved Haitian nationality, ownership of property in the country and other requirements, along with consultations with national police and Cabinet ministries, Verret said.
More than a third of Haiti’s 30-member Senate has been vacant since early last year.
Elections originally scheduled for late 2007 were postponed after Preval dissolved the electoral council amid infighting.
Food riots, parliamentary delays in replacing Preval’s ousted prime minister and a string of catastrophic hurricanes and tropical storms led to further delays.