Originally: Haiti presses on with poll despite boycott

Haiti will go ahead with elections this year, even though the US and
local opposition say President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s administration
has not met the conditions necessary for a fair vote.

The elections are an attempt to end a three-year political impasse that
has cut off vital economic assistance to the Caribbean state, the
poorest in the western hemisphere.

The country has been politically paralysed since disputed legislative
elections three years ago. Opposition parties and foreign observers said
vote-counting in some districts was manipulated to benefit Mr Aristide’s
Fanmi Lavalas party.

Alix Lamarque, president of the electoral council, said preparations
were being made for elections in November and December. The terms of
two-thirds of the legislators expire in January.

But the US embassy in Port-au-Prince said the elections would not meet
the conditions of an agreement reached a year ago between Haiti and the
Organisation of American States.

Convergence Democratique, a coalition of 15 Haitian opposition parties,
said it would boycott the election.

“We will be under a threat of violence, so our supporters will be afraid
to vote, making the event a farce that will again benefit the
government,” said an opposition spokesman.

The opposition has also refused to name any delegates to the electoral
council, a body that the US said must be created “by consensus and not
by unilateral action”.

Mr Aristide’s administration has promised to establish an independent
council to administer elections and to reform the country’s small,
poorly trained and ill-equipped police force.

The government has also pledged to disarm its supporters. Prospective
donors and creditors have withheld Haiti’s access to hundreds of
millions of dollars that the country desperately needs, pending the
implementation of reforms.

The country was given about $50m (?45.5m, £31m) last month to help fund
public health and education as part of a $146m Inter-American
Development Bank loan that was frozen after the elections. The
government paved the way for access to the funds by using foreign
reserves to pay $32m in arrears to the IADB.

However, access to more funds will not be helped by uncertainty about
public safety. Government officials dispute a US report that accused
officials of paying thugs to attack a recent meeting of civic leaders.
Several people were injured when the meeting – called to discuss law and
order – was attacked by a stone-throwing mob.

The government maintains the opposition’s refusal to co-operate over the
electoral council is frustrating election planning.

“I can understand if the US says that the opposition must take part in
the electoral council, but what is important is that Haiti wants
elections in order to prevent an institutional void,” says Gerald
Gilles, a government senator.