Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

A Good Election Would Help

New York Times Editorial

With all that Haiti lost on Jan. 12 — and all that it has to do to rebuild — it needs a strong and legitimate government. That means it needs national elections.

Haiti was supposed to elect a new Parliament in February and a new president this November. The earthquake made the February vote impossible and the November vote uncertain. The current Parliament’s term ends today, meaning Haiti is entering a period of uncertainty, with enormous obstacles to overcome for a transparent, honest and peaceful vote this fall. Power is concentrated for now in just one person, President René Préval, whom Parliament granted emergency authority to govern without a legislature.

Given Haiti’s long and destructive history of one-man rule, that emergency period should be as short as possible. Mr. Préval has insisted that he will leave when his term ends on Feb. 7, but he sent tremors last week by announcing he might stay on until May 14, the technical end date of his five-year term if the election is delayed and looming chaos demands that someone remain in charge.

It’s up to everyone in Haiti now, Mr. Préval in particular, to make that unnecessary. The United Nations mission in Haiti (Minustah) and the Organization of American States have pledged security and technical support. The task will be extraordinarily difficult: 1.5 million people — more than 15 percent of Haiti’s population — are homeless, living in shelters or with relatives. Their identity documents were destroyed along with the schools used as polling places. The electoral council is working in makeshift headquarters: a gym. Huge logistical obstacles must be overcome, and decisions made about registration, voting procedures and candidate qualifications.

The process must emphasize the greatest possible flexibility and participation by voters and candidates. Displaced people should be allowed to vote where they currently live, not their old destroyed neighborhoods. Opposition parties will need aid to organize and campaign. In a country where transportation and communication are difficult and expensive, Mr. Préval’s Unity Party should not be given undue advantages.

If fair elections can be held in Iraq, amid war, terrorism and ethnic feuds, they can be held in Haiti. The last thing Haiti needs is to lay a political catastrophe atop the natural one. Haiti needs a legitimate government chosen in a legitimate election. Let the campaigning begin.

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