Originally: Little hope for Haiti elections this year

PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 11 (Reuters) – Haiti’s hope for national elections
by mid-year is gone and there appears to be little chance of a vote this
year to break a 3-year-old political deadlock and restore foreign aid to
the Caribbean nation, opposition leaders and analysts say.
Even the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who at the
January opening of parliament said he intended to hold elections by the end
of June, seems to have given up on an early vote.
As a result, the poorest nation in the Americas stumbles toward its
Jan. 1, 2004 celebration of 200 years of independence in turmoil, its
economy foundering, government stagnating and no end in sight to
international economic sanctions that resulted from tainted May 2000
“I don’t think it is possible to have elections this year,” said Micha
Gaillard, a spokesman for Democratic Convergence, an umbrella group of
political parties opposed to Aristide’s ruling Lavalas Family party.
Haiti’s fledgling democracy has been in crisis since parliamentary
elections in May 2000, when observers said elections officials used a
faulty process to calculate the results of a handful of Senate seats to
favor Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.
As a result, international donor groups halted the flow of $500
million in foreign aid to Haiti, where about 80 percent of 8 million people
live in poverty and per capita gross domestic product is under $500 a year.
The United States, the Organization of American States and others
outside Haiti have demanded Aristide hold legitimate elections to cleanse
the tainted 2000 vote before they will restore aid. Aristide in February
named a part of a Provisional Electoral Council to oversee the vote, a
necessary step.
But Convergence and other opposition parties have refused to name an
opposition candidate to the council, thus holding up elections. They say
Aristide is a dictator who is using armed thugs to rule Haiti, just as the
dreaded Ton Tons Macoute paramilitaries propped up the 30-year Duvalier
In a series of interviews in the past week, opposition leaders and
outside analysts said Aristide opponents would be afraid to campaign in the
current climate of insecurity and Haitians would not participate because of
the danger of attending rallies.
“It’s like in Cuba. You have elections in Cuba, but without the
possibility to criticize the government,” Gaillard said.
At a news conference in the Haitian capital last week, Foreign Affairs
Minister Joseph Antonio said elections were still possible in 2003 if the
opposition help complete the electoral council, known by its French acronym
Haiti is so new to democracy — Aristide became its first freely
elected president in 1991 following decades of military rule and
dictatorship — it needs six to nine months to plan a vote, observers say,
pushing any timetable into the new year.
“Their record in holding their elections at any predictable time is
not good,” said James Morrell, executive-director of a Washington
think-tank called the Haiti Democracy Project.
Evans Paul, a one-time Aristide confidante who is now a key leader of
the opposition, has proposed Lavalas and Convergence step aside and create
an independent government to rule Haiti and organize elections next year.
“If all of us believe there is a problem and we all agree we must make
a sacrifice, it should be good for the government and the opposition to
step aside for a moment,” he said.
Some hold out hope an OAS general assembly meeting June 8-10 in
Santiago, Chile, will produce a new initiative to break the deadlock.
But Morrell said Aristide’s government failed at every step to follow
a previous OAS plan that would lead to new elections, including the
disarmament of armed gangs loyal to Aristide and the arrest of gang
leaders. As a result, the think-tank has suggested the appointment of a
“technocratic administration” of Haitians not aligned with the parties to
hold new elections.
“There is no possibility of moving past impasse without elections. You
must have a government with legitimacy.”