Originally: 2006 and us

Two thousand six will begin with the organization of elections at all levels. That is good news. But, because these elections have already been postponed several times, no one can predict the quality of the outcome. That news is not quite as good. Of course, like a meal whose preparation has been interrupted several times, the final product runs the risk of being insipid or even unappetizing. But, where there is hunger (and I think we are all famished), one cannot be too picky. We should therefore get ready to eat what we will be served. If not enthusiastically, at least graciously. Hoping all the while it isn?t too hard to swallow.

They are, after all, crucial elections that should have been organized long ago. In any case, before the end of this year. Following Prime Minister Gérard Latortue?s lead, all foreign dignitaries involved directly or indirectly gave their assurances that they would be held in 2005. As was the case in Iraq. And in Afghanistan. They repeated it so many times they ended up believing it, and convincing others it couldn?t be otherwise. So it is not surprising that some Haitians have taken the newly announced dates with a grain of salt. Or that others even speak of a conspiracy to place us under their control or to block a specific candidate. Efforts should be made to counter these rumors, especially by the Provisional Election Council (CEP), the OAS, and the UN. I?ll come back to this point later.

Meanwhile, despite appearances, there are a few reasons for tempered optimism and for 2006 to truly represent a fresh start. In a contest characterized thus far by a deluge of candidates and a dearth of ideas, the fact that alliances and coalitions are forming must be considered very positive. Even if they were focused against a particular candidate, it would not seem sinister to me at all, and certainly not the result of a conspiracy, as some would like to have us believe.

In 1975, after Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for president of the United States, his opponents launched the ABC (Anyone But Carter) movement in an attempt to block his nomination. This did not prevent him from winning the election. So no one should be shocked by a potential ABP movement (Anyone But Préval). He has already been president. He has a track record that could be used against him, but it could also work in his favor. It could play out either way. In fact, the formation of a truly broad alliance against any candidate could end up giving that person more weight and, more importantly, creating a truly competitive campaign, something that Haitians under 50 have never witnessed.

And then, for political or even professional organizations to publicly warn against one candidate or another, this is simply part of political campaigning 101. And no one should find fault with it. All the more so since to date, apart from a few slips?inevitable in these kinds of situations?the candidates have proven quite civil. Let?s hope this continues. It is important that the candidate elected have the legitimacy and respect necessary to initiate this fresh start. It makes no difference whether this lucky candidate is elected by a large coalition, other alliances or, to a large extent, by Lavalas voters. What is essential is that the outcome of this universal suffrage be respected.

But I know things are not that simple. And here, I consider it extremely promising, and even healthy for the future, that several major figures and presidential candidates have signed a political commitment to accept the results of the elections announced by the CEP and confirmed by the national and international observation organizations. I believe that the other candidates, whether individually or as a group, should make similar commitments.

However, while I consider it fair that coalitions and alliances be formed against any candidate, this must not at all give the impression that the coalitions and alliances also have the goal of quashing a specific voter base, in this case the Lavalas electorate. All the more so since this could turn out to be largely counterproductive. At the risk of going against conventional wisdom, at this time I do not think anyone can accurately gauge the real weight of the Lavalas base. The November 2000 elections, which could have served as a benchmark, had a dismal voter turnout according to estimates by the opposition at the time (from 5 to 20 percent)?and the head of the Lavalas movement was himself a candidate. Why wasn?t there a mass mobilization to ensure him an outright victory, as there was in 1990? I dare to suggest, among possible answers, that we cannot rule out the possibility that the base on which he depended was not as significant as was claimed. In other words, the Lavalas base alone cannot elect a president.

Far be it from me to consider the Lavalas electorate a tizwit (minute) minority, as another might have said. But I believe we must take care not to label as Lavalas voters those who, regardless of how well or badly off they are, live in working-class neighborhoods, shantytowns, or the countryside, and are preparing to vote for one candidate over another. We must not repeat the errors of 1990 when Lavalas party members themselves hastened to qualify anyone who wasn?t enthusiastically supporting a certain priest from St. Jean Bosco as a Macoute. We must close the door on all forms of exclusion.

On another matter, and in order to prevent conspiracy theories, the reasons behind the numerous blunders in determining and setting the date for the elections must be explained. Announcing new dates is a necessary step, but it is insufficient to quell rumors. And the lack of clear explanations provides fertile ground for all kinds of theories. I am sure that somewhere an evaluation of what happened exists. Why not share it with the public? This could help stop senseless rumors in their tracks. Like the one about the election date being postponed to give the large incipient multilateral coalition time to organize itself to block the candidate who seems to have a shot at winning with the support of the Lavalas voter base. Then there are those who are so convinced that Haiti will soon be a protectorate that they are already compiling data for the ?chronicles of a guardianship foretold.?

Many questions exist regarding the quality of the cooperation and dialogue among the CEP, the OAS, and the UN. The latter two institutions, together with the representatives of the countries involved in the elections process, control the financial resources, provide the experts, and perform countless other duties, some more important than others, some less known than others. Would the CEP have deliberately chosen, as scandalmongers say, to mount a nonviolent resistance to the white (excuse me! I mean the international) community, which thinks it can control the elections, all the while repeating that the Haitians are solely responsible for the process going smoothly? Is it true that the number of voter-registration centers was cut back considerably because the company selected by the OAS did not provide enough laptop computers to register and photograph voters?

There are significant suspicions that must be clearly addressed in order to quiet rumors of conspiracies. The OAS, the UN, and the CEP should each make an effort in their respective areas to improve communication. Why wouldn?t they sign a joint press release addressing the public?s concerns? Wouldn?t it remind people that they are working together effectively in pursuit of the same goal? Moreover, the CEP would be able to put an end to the myth that it is in sole command.

Let us stop considering 2006 as a year fraught with danger. While we cannot forget that it marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Dessalines, let us also remember that it is the second anniversary of the fall of Aristide, and the twentieth anniversary of the fall of Duvalier. And let us take steps to celebrate the future with a little more confidence.

30 November 2005