By Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte
Calls for a boycott of next February’s legislative elections are growing after the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) on Nov. 24 disqualified former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Family(FL), Haiti’s largest political party, from fielding candidates.
Outrage has spread even to sectors traditionally hostile to the FL as the CEP established an unusually accelerated electoral schedule and after President René Préval lured dozens of candidates from rival parties to his newly formed Unity party with promises of generous campaign financing and threats of political hardball.
The CEP disqualified 14 of the 69 parties which registered during the week from Nov. 16 to Nov. 23 (The CEP extended the original five-day registration period in the face of widespread outcry.) Among those barred, some without explanation, were the Union party of Pastor Chavannes Jeune and the ESKANP platform, which had been part of the Lespwa (Hope) coalition, Unity’s predecessor.
CEP president Gaillot Dorsinvil said that the FL’s registration was rejected because the original letter sent by Aristide from exile in South Africa naming Dr. Maryse Narcisse as the party’s election representative
(”mandataire”) “did not resemble at all” the letter sent by fax a week earlier to meet the registration deadline. “It didn’t have a stamp or an envelope,” he said, questioning its “authenticity.”
Lawyer Lesly Alphonse, president of the Association of Law Professionals, ridiculed the rejection, saying that questioning the mandate’s authenticity had “no legal basis.”
“When the mandate’s form is not specifically imposed by the legislation in question, one cannot demand an authenticated mandate,” he said.
The day after the CEP’s rejection, Aristide took to Haiti’s airwaves for the first time since he was overthrown in a Feb. 29, 2004 U.S.-backed coup d’état.
“It was me who wrote the mandate, signed the mandate and sent the mandate,”
Aristide said in a wide-ranging 43 minute interview with Venel Remarais of Port-au-Prince’s Radio Solidarité. He compared the exclusion to an “electoral coup d’état” and warned that “”it would be a huge error, after other errors already made in 2004, for us to take the direction of exclusion or ’selections’ instead of elections.”
Aristide criticized Préval only obliquely, stopping short of any direct accusations, and requested a government letter for safe conduct (”laisser
passer”) back to Haiti since “my diplomatic passport has long since expired.” Then he said he would come personally before the CEP.
“If the authorities don’t want elections, everyone will see what they want and what they don’t want,” he said. ” I think in 1990 it was the first time the Haitian people had a chance to participate in free, honest and democratic elections. That was on Dec. 16, 1990. If we continue with free, honest and democratic elections, it will be good for the country’s political health and can bring stability which can help our economy so we can progress. If we go from coup d’état to coup d’état instead of elections, then we will just keep going from problem to problem.”
Narcisse engaged in two days of fruitless negotiations with the CEP. “We presented them with the proof of how the letter was sent by DHL from South Africa to Miami, then brought by courrier from Miami to Haiti and then notarized in Haiti,” Narcisse told Haiti Liberté. “If that was not enough, what could be better proof than Aristide’s intervention on the radio?”
The CEP is supposed to be politically independent, but even pundits like Marvel Dandin of Radio Kiskeya, a strong supporter of the 2004 coup, have begun to question the CEP’s “credibility” and the viability of February’s elections. “The general impression at this time is that the President controls the CEP,” Dandin said in a Nov. 30 editorial. “Perception or reality?” he rhetorically asked, quickly responding that it didn’t really matter since “in politics, perception counts as much as, if not more than, reality.”
Indeed, Préval has arbitrarily devised an unconstitutional formula where vaguely defined and easily manipulated “sectors” of Haitian society nominate two representatives, one of whom Préval selects to sit on the nine-member CEP. The last CEP, formed in 2006, had representatives from the Protestants (Cultes Reformés), Catholics, Episcopalians, Handicapped, Unions, Conference of Political Parties (Social Democrats), Convention of Political Parties (Conservatives), Women, and Popular Organizations. That CEP also barred the FL from running in the April and June 2009 partial Senate elections, prompting a nationwide boycott that made participation “between 2% and 3%,”
according to the National Council of Electoral Observation (CNO).
The latest CEP, formed in October, keeps the very same representatives for five sectors: Protestants, Episcopalians, Handicapped, Unions, and Women.
The Popular Organizations sector, whose representative Rodol Pierre was a fierce critic within the last CEP, was removed and replaced, with appropriate demagogy, by a Vodou sector. The political parties now have only one representative instead of two, with the ninth seat going to the Federations of ASECs and CASECs, local community councils.
While hand-picking the new CEP, Préval was also hastily assembling his new party, Unity. The party has wooed candidates from both the center and the right like the social democratic Fusion, Alliance, Mirlene Manigat’s Assembly of National Progressive Democrats (RDNP), MOCHRENA the Struggling People’s Organization (OPL), and Chavannes Jeune’s Union. Jeune accused another Union leader, Jean Marie Claude Germain, who is also Préval’s Environment Minister, of making a false party seal to forge documents adhering Union to the Unity alliance. This fraud is why, Jeune claims, Union is barred from running its own candidates.
Even Marie-Denise Claude, the daughter of the late firebrand pastor Sylvio Claude (who was killed in the 1991 coup) deserted the Social Christian Party of Haiti (PSCH), which she headed and her father founded, to try for a West Department Senate seat under the Unity banner.
But Préval’s main political prizes come from the Lavalas Family. A number of secondary and regional FL leaders were brought into Lespwa and “won” Senate seats during the 2009 elections, including Milot’s Moise Jean-Charles and Cité Soleil’s John Joel Joseph. The most recent defection, this time to Unity, is that of Nahoum Marcellus, who was the FL’s strongest leader in Cap Haitien. He will run for a North Senate seat, while former Lavalas deputy Saurel Francois and Lavalas base group leaders like Printemps Bélizaire and Job Glorius will run as Unity candidates for three of the 99 Deputy seats up for grabs.
Meanwhile, the OPL, Fusion and Evens Paul’s KID have formed their own electoral coalition: Alternative.
Surprisingly few candidates have actually registered during the Nov. 25 to Dec. 2 candidate registration period, which was extended 48 hours. For example, only 19 candidates, eight of them from Unity, were registered for West Department races at press time. Some of this may have to do with the 17 documents candidates must gather to register, or the 50,000 gourdes ($1,242) fee for would-be deputies and 100,000 gourdes ($2,484) for would-be senators.
All of this has the makings of a fiasco, and the United Nations occupation force smells trouble. The U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) took the unusual step of issuing a statement urging the CEP to provide “solid justifications” for disqualifying parties and to display “a spirit of equity, openness, and transparency so that the elections can be as inclusive as possible.”
The CNO expressed its misgivings about the elections, noting for example that the registering of parties and candidates is happening in two weeks rather than the nine weeks normally allotted. The CNO also said that the exclusion of parties like the FL was “outside of transparent modalities and of all acceptable public justification.”
Other criticism is more pointed. “We must block the road for the macabre strategy of the head of state,” said Deputy Jean David Genesté on a Nov. 27 radio show. He said that Préval wants to get a Parliamentary majority so he can change the Constitution and put in place a powerful Constitutional Council.
Meanwhile, popular organizations have called for mobilization and threatened a boycott. On Nov. 30, the Assembly of Organizations for Change (ROC) held a press conference which accused Préval’s government of “perpetuating a policy of exclusion and subjugating the democracy that the Haitian people are bent on creating.” ROC condemned “all the opportunists who pretended to be with the people but who now have sold their conscience for a post of senator or deputy to the peril of the popular struggle.”
“We call on Lavalas to mobilize,” ROC concluded. “We call on people around the country to mobilize so that the forces of death have to cancel their death plans. If Dorsinvil’s CEP does not reverse this decision against the majority, the masses should demand his immediate resignation and that of Préval and there will be no elections on February 28 and March 3, 2010.”
In some of his sharpest remarks, Aristide compared Préval’s efforts to supplant the Lavalas Family with Unity to dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc”
Duvalier’s ill-fated attempt to artificially spawn a political movement with his National Committee for Jean-Claudist Action or CONAJEC in the early 1980s.
“If we analyze it, we can say that Lespwa has done zero, because it hasn’t delivered” Aristide said. “The maneuver of assembling x and y to make the Unity platform is a kind of CONAJEC, like Jean-Claude tried to do. But it won’t lead anywhere.”