In the 20th century, Haiti saw 20 years of occupation by US forces, more than 30 coups, and two “presidents for life”.

Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was elected as president in 1957, but by 1964 had given himself the title of lifelong president.

On his death in 1971, the position passed on to his son in order to continue the family dynasty.

When “Baby Doc” Duvalier was ousted at the end of 1986, the family had been in power for almost 30 years.

Throughout this period, political activity and debate was severely curtailed.

Rise of Aristide

Many of the small opposition parties had to operate from abroad, in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela or the United States.

The years following the downfall of the Duvaliers were marked by coups and short-lived military governments.

The politicians who returned from abroad were able to make little impact as they had little real support among Haitians.

It was only when the mass “Lavalas” movement grew up around the charismatic figure of the young Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, that anything like a broadly-based political party was created.

Other political groups could offer little by way of policies or alternative strategies for development and remained weak and divided, coming together around a prominent figure at election time.

But President Aristide’s first period in government was cut short by another military coup in September 1991, and parliament was closed down.

Democratic dysfunction

At the end of 1994, when Mr Aristide returned to power, political life was renewed.

The Lavalas movement enjoyed a large majority in parliament, although it soon split into several factions, some of them no longer supporting Mr Aristide.

From 1996 to 2000, the government of Mr Aristide’s supporter, Rene Preval, saw advances in democratic rule, with the election of mayors throughout the country, and a functioning parliament once more.

This situation did not last after President Aristide’s return to office in 2000, as opposition politicians cried foul at the legislative elections held in that year and refused to take part in parliament.

By January 2004 the parliament had again ceased to function, as the term in office of most of the deputies elected had expired, without any agreement on when new elections were to be held because of the opposition refusal to co-operate with Mr Aristide.

More of the same?

With Mr Aristide now gone, Haiti is facing the future with no elected authority.

The former president’s Lavalas party can still possibly command a majority of votes, especially in the rural areas.

Meanwhile none of the political groups who were pressing for him to go has a truly popular leader who could convincingly win “free and fair” elections.

The interim government due to be appointed this week is unlikely to have enough authority to create the calm and tolerance need for proper political parties to organise and develop their arguments prior to elections.

According to the Haitian constitution, these elections should be held within 90 days, but this entails creating a new electoral council, establishing voter lists, and registering political parties and their candidates.

Little in Haiti’s recent history suggests that this can be accomplished: after 200 years of independence, a stable, functioning democracy remains elusive.