Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Unfair and Undemocratic

By Ira J. Kurzban, The Miami Herald

Imagine if the Federal Election Commission in the United States disqualified the Democratic and Republican parties from the 2012 presidential election and declared that only candidates of minor parties could run. No one would consider it a fair election, and certainly the people of the United States would rise up, claiming the election is unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Yet the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Haiti on Nov. 28 are just that — unfair, unconstitutional and undemocratic. The country’s Provisional Electoral Council, which itself is not constitutionally composed, is refusing to allow the country’s majority party — Famni Lavalas (Lavalas Family) — to participate in the election. Thirteen other legitimate political parties are also being excluded from parliamentary elections.

The Famni Lavalas Party, headed by former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, won the last democratic election it was allowed to participate in by overwhelming margins. In May 2000, when President René Préval was in his first term, the party won virtually all the seats in the lower house of Parliament, the state houses and local governments. It won most of the seats in the Haitian Senate and the presidency. Since the February 2004 coup, Famni Lavalas has been banned from participating in Haitian politics.

The current Provisional Electoral Council, hand-picked by President Préval, has fabricated a new eligibility requirement to disqualify Famni Lavalas from the presidential elections. This new rule requires that the head of each party register presidential candidates in person.

President Aristide, however, is exiled in South Africa where a tacit agreement between many governments keeps him there. While the great powers have maintained a code of silence concerning Aristide and his right to return to his own country, they are feverishly working, with the complicity of the South African government, to ensure that he does not return. At the same time, the government of Haiti has refused to renew Aristide’s passport to allow him to return to Haiti to register his party.

These political maneuvers are not lost on Haiti’s people. While the mainstream media in the United States focuses on whether Wyclef Jean may run for president or what Sean Penn thinks of Jean’s candidacy, the Haitian people refuse to play the fool. Indeed, they know the presidential election that will be imposed on them has nothing to do with democracy.

They will, as they did in 2005, only support a presidential candidate who will bring Aristide and Famni Lavalas back to the Haitian electoral system. With Famni Lavalas out of the race, the election will have extremely low turnout, which international “authorities” will predictably say is “the best one can expect” given the earthquake.

The result is a faux election that will have lasting consequences for Haiti and the international community.

It will undermine the stated goal of the United States and its allies to achieve “stability” in Haiti, and it will undermine the legitimacy and sustainability of a central Haitian government that is not elected by, but for, the people.

In a report to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., called upon President Préval to restructure the Provisional Electoral Council and ensure the participation of opposition parties, including Famni Lavalas. Without this, Lugar argued, the November elections will lack credibility. Lugar warned, “The absence of democratically elected successors could potentially plunge the country into chaos.”

Fair, inclusive elections — that include the participation of Famni Lavalas and other legitimate political parties and respect for the right of all exiles to return, including Aristide — are essential for establishing a Haitian government with the legitimacy and capacity to effectively manage the country’s reconstruction. Settling for elections that are less than fair and inclusive might seem expedient in the short term, but in the mid- and long-term accepting flawed elections will ensure civil strife and political controversy. It will imperil international community investments in Haiti while leaving the country vulnerable to the next natural, economic or political disaster.

If we believe in spreading democracy throughout the world, it is difficult to understand the code of silence by the United States and other nations that support the disenfranchisement of the Haitian people by eliminating the majority party in the election.

Ira J. Kurzban was the general counsel in the United States for the Republic of Haiti for 13 years during the Aristide and first Préval administrations.

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