About the presenter:
Jacques Bernard was director-general, and by many accounts the only effective administrator at the Provisional Electoral Council. At an episode at the tabulation center in the industrial park, two of the commissioners, Pierre Duchemin and Patrick Fequiere, loudly upbraided Bernard for an hour in an attempt to intimidate him and, presumably, curry favor for themselves with Preval. Then pro-Preval demonstrators invaded the Montana Hotel in search of electoral officials to attack and lynch, Bernard chief among them. With U.S. help, he was whisked to the United States as was Leon Manus five and a half years ago. The Haiti project was proud to present Manus at the Brookings Institution in 2000 in his first U.S. appearance after fleeing to exile. We are equally proud to present Bernard.
Bernard’s story may have a better ending in that there may be negotiations to return him to Haiti with proper protection to administer the second round. By most accounts, Haiti would have difficulty holding the second round without him.
A major blunder by the international community has forced Haiti into one of the most perplexing as well as unnecessary crises it has had to endure since the departure of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier twenty years ago. The Latin American troop-contributing countries, with Brazil in the lead, pressured the Haitian electoral commission into illegally awarding the presidential election to Rene Préval before he had fairly won it. They did this by allocating to him and other candidates eighty-five thousand blank ballots?that is, eighty-five thousand ballots that were verified by voting officials and party pollwatchers across the country as having been explicitly cast for no candidate.
This violated Haitian electoral law, which makes no provision for such allotment, but rather requires that these blank ballots be counted, toward no candidate, among total ballots cast. Adding these ballots, about 4 percent of the total cast, to the total makes it a little harder for a candidate to reach the 50 percent of the ballots needed for a first-round victory.
This was the situation as electoral officials began counting the ballots from the outlying departments, where support for Préval was less. Whereas the ballots for the department including Port-au-Prince put Préval over 60 percent, each set of returns from other departments brought his percentage down, until it began slipping below 50 percent. This would have necessitated Préval going to the second round.
Préval baselessly claimed massive fraud. Buttressing this claim was an unofficial parallel count by the U.S. National Democratic Institute showing him further ahead than the official results; Francois Benoit, a member of the election commission, has questioned the good faith of this parallel count and noted it provided Preval with his major justification for claiming massive fraud. Preval called on his supporters to peacefully mobilize. Days of demonstrations with flaming barriers in the streets disrupted Port-au-Prince, with international airlines canceling their flights. A bus from Santo Domingo was stoned in Port-au-Prince and all Dominican bus lines canceled their routes. One crowd of Préval supporters invaded the Montana Hotel in search of election officials to intimidate or lynch.
It fell to Jacques Bernard, administrator of the electoral commission, to nightly release the figures showing Préval?s count dipping lower, after the normal spokesperson was afraid to announce these. Two members of the commission loudly upbraided Bernard for an hour at the tabulation center. His life in danger, Bernard was spirited away to the United States, where he told his version at meetings of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Haiti Democracy Project.
Rather than resist this violence, the troop-contributing countries, with 9,500 heavily-armed U.N. troops and police on the ground, buckled under the pressure. As they saw it, Préval had won the election with 49-plus percent of the votes, as against the next-nearest candidate?s 11 percent. He would win anyhow, first round or second. Préval was helicoptered to the capital to calm his supporters. The illegal manipulation to get him over the top was hatched by the U.N.?s special representative on the scene, a Chilean; the head of the Organization of American States, briefly visiting Haiti; U.N. electoral officials, including a Salvadoran; all but one member of the electoral commission; and Gerard Latortue, interim prime minister.
Inexplicably, it was acquiesced in by the leading Western countries on the scene, the United States, Canada, and European Union.
A number of factors entered into their calculation. Préval was a known quantity, and without Aristide there to pull the strings gave every indication of being a serviceable president. The more-or-less 50 percent he had received seemed a sufficient mandate to absorb the undoubted illegality of the manipulation they were perpetrating. Préval was the man to placate and eventually isolate the most violence-prone of the Aristide gangs which were ruining the country with kidnapping and drug-running, defying even the potent U.N. mission.
The allocation scheme was one used in Belgium, which for those desperate for a rationale provided the veneer they were seeking. Above all, Préval?s supporters were imminent and threatening, whereas as those who scattered their 50 percent of the votes among the other thirty-odd candidates seemed to be a confused mass.
The situation was perplexing to well-wishers of Haiti because we know on the one hand this country must stage a legal election in order to install a legitimate government; and on the other, Préval seems sufficiently ready to reach out and unite that we must wish the best for his government. A stable government that can reestablish security is the sine qua non for restarting the economy and improving the dismal lives of the poor majority.