Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Schedule elections, U.S. Congress urges Haiti president

By JACQUELINE CHARLES, Miami Herald

Haitian President René Préval is being urged to move faster to schedule presidential and parliamentary elections in an earthquake-battered Haiti or risk losing the confidence of the U.S. Congress.

The warning comes from a high-ranking influential member of Congress, who in an eight-page report obtained by The Miami Herald, calls for Préval, whose presidential mandate ends in 2011, to “issue the appropriate decree establishing an official date for presidential and parliamentary elections, without delay.”

“Our government is sympathetic to the plight of Haitians, as demonstrated by the assistance our military, diplomats and development experts provided in the wake of the disaster,” Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, said. “But the positive effect of assistance programs will be limited if Haiti lacks a responsible, popularly-elected government.”

Préval has repeatedly expressed his desire to hold elections, telling Haitians as recently as last week during an appearance in the Dominican Republic to prepare themselves to go to the polls. And while he has been reluctant to announce a formal date until now, his advisers told The Miami Herald that a presidential decree authorizing the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to schedule the elections for Nov. 28 is currently under review and should be published in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the report calls on Préval and his government to show “strong leadership,” on the matter of elections and recommends that the U.S. State Department ask him to issue the presidential decree “in earnest” and restructure the membership of Haiti’s beleaguered CEP in consultation with the international partners in a way that “demonstrates a clear political commitment to contesting credible elections.”

The State Department is also being urged to ask donors to disburse a portion of the estimated $38 million needed to hold elections as soon as Préval issues the decree. The State Department also is being asked “to seek an agreement with the CEP and all political parties, including factions of Fanmi Lavalas, to ensure that the parties meet the CEP’s legal requirements and are not excluded from elections because of perceived technicalities.”

“The outpouring of goodwill and resources by the United Sates and the international community should be leveraged by Haiti’s leaders to catalyze compromises on contentious issues so that all sides can go forward and rebuild Haiti together,” Lugar said.

Mark Schneider, a Haiti observer and head of the International Crisis Group, said reconstruction in Haiti also means rebuilding democratic institutions.

“Good elections this year are essential to permit President Préval to achieve the orderly transition to a new elected government in which the people of Haiti and the international community will have confidence,” he said.

Schneider said the fact that Préval “has not yet managed, by restructuring the CEP, issuing the formal decree setting a date, or broad consultation to find a way to convince opposition political parties to focus positively on the coming elections,” allows for a continued “drumbeat of accusations against his government that adds to the general tension as reconstruction inevitably takes longer than anyone wants.”

The report, which will be made public on Thursday, comes as legislation to provide Haiti with billions of dollars in reconstruction aid stalls in Congress. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to give Haiti $2 billion over the next two years for reconstruction efforts. The amount was less than the $3.5 billion Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was seeking over the next five years. The House has yet to vote.

Though support for Haiti remains on Capitol Hill there is growing concern that a Haitian political crisis could derail U.S. efforts to help the country rebuild, especially as the catastrophic Jan. 12 quake becomes a distant memory and U.S. taxpayers become less concerned with things “foreign” as they increasingly focus on domestic issues such as unemployment and the approaching November elections.

“The people of Haiti are confronted with a unique opportunity to alter fundamentally the trajectory of their economic, social and political future,” Lugar said. “The United States and the international community have demonstrated their desire to support the people of Haiti as they attempt to realize this objective. But this commitment should not be taken for granted.”

The day after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted, Lugar dispatched two committee staffers to Haiti to assess the viability of holding presidential and parliamentary with 1.5 million people living in tends and under tarps and a government-estimated 300,000 dead.

Weeks earlier, Préval had met with top foreign diplomats from the United States, United Nations, Organization of American States, Caribbean Community, Canada and Brazil at the U.N. compound in Port-au-Prince to discuss the findings of a UN report that found elections are possible “technically, logistically and financially,” but there are things Préval must do to kick-start the process.

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