Originally: Why Pluralism Is an Imperative
Generally in the world today, these are times of positive change.
President Barack Obama was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for presenting, defending and executing an agenda of dialogue and harmony between peoples and nations. And, even though the return of the troops from Iraq has yet to be completed, and there is a complicated war in Afghanistan, and the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is still not resolved, we are hopeful for a better, peaceful, world. The United States is also once again engaged in a close relation with its traditional allies in Europe, Asia, and multilateralism is seen again as the way to prevent and resolve the world?s conflicts.
The cold war is really coming to an end: the United States is enjoying improved relations with China, Russia, South -East Asia? and North Korea has promised to return to the negotiating table and to stop its pursuit of nuclear armament which means that as Capitalism and Communism evolve, the fierce struggle between these two systems of government and ideologies is turning to a peaceful mode and is continuing through dialogue.
Iran remains a preoccupation: its determined pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel stand reinforces the fear of this country?s nuclear-arm capacity-building. But Iran does not seem eager to be isolated and it is making an effort to maintain a dialogue with the rest of the world. Since a war between Israel and Iran is dangerous for not only regional peace but world peace, the concerned nations are keeping a watchful eye on the development of the situation and are proceeding on the negotiation path with care and caution.
As for the countries of Latin America, they are headed in a good direction: while populism continues to influence the politics of this region, representative democracy is a dominant trend. Credible elections are organized periodically in this part of the world although at times they are contested by the losing party. Furthermore, the leadership of these countries is determined to take charge of their economy and to develop alternative ideas and institutions that will facilitate economic development and favor better living conditions for all.
In Haiti, elections are coming again. President Préval is at the end of his second term in office, and many elective legislative and local spots are open. During his presidency, the president?s main achievement was to build the national police, The Police Nationale d?Haïti. This agency works in conjunction with the United Nations contingent to improve security and as a result of their work, kidnappings have decreased. However, politically, conditions remain questionable as the last senatorial elections? results were not credible for many observers and very few people participated.
From an economic standpoint, everything remains to be done. There is a great need for basic services such as water, electricity and urban development; the country?s infrastructure remains defective, there is no employment or investment although there are recent attempts to remedy this situation notably with the initiatives of U.N. envoy Bill Clinton. Education and healthcare are also lagging behind.
These days the political debate is heating up on the occasion of the next legislative and presidential elections: the ?Convention Nationale des Partis Politiques?, a regrouping of eleven political parties, which had supported the president and his team at the beginning of his presidency, has formulated serious criticism of the government and is seeking unity among political, civic and other grassroots groups in order to present a viable alternative for the elections. For these militants whose personal agenda is and has been, in certain cases, since adolescence, combined with the quest for public good and the improvement of living conditions in Haiti, pluralism is important.
Of course, these parties have been on the political scene for quite a while. Their leadership, in their 50s, 60s and 70s, have put together political groups since the 1960s, as they were involved in the risky struggle against the Duvalier dictatorship. In many cases, they devoted their lives to the common good and they continue to struggle to bring about a pluralist democracy in Haiti that they intend to be part of. They are having a hard time achieving this ideal, but, just because they haven?t succeeded and still persist doesn?t make them merely ambitious job seekers ? although they also need to become more representative, viable, and united and articulate programs and platforms that respond to the needs of the country and its people and the priorities of today?s world.
The Meeting at the Croix-des-Bouquets Ranch
On this United Nations Day, the political actuality in Haiti is dominated by the reactions to the news of a meeting orchestrated by René Préval that gathered the representatives of the country?s 570 communal sections in preparation for the forthcoming local, legislative and presidential elections.
I can only speculate about what this recent move of the president means and I see two different possibilities:
1) Préval intends to organize free and credible elections and he is giving his group the largest possible ? nationwide ? representation in order to win again the political power;
2) Préval is attempting to consolidate his personal authority through a single party with the largest possible basis.
I will have to wait for the situation to unfold in order to find out which interpretation best fits the conditions of our country.
One thing is certain: the president does not seem to be trusted by much of the population which fears a takeover by Préval and his allies. After all, the last elections organized by the Electoral Council under the presidency of Frantz Gérard Verret resulted in mostly Lespwa representatives being elected, and many think those elections were manipulated at least in some parts of the country. Besides, when the president himself was elected in 2006, he did not hesitate to have the crowds take the streets to enforce results that although favorable to him did not reach the required 50 percent.
Another thing is certain: those Haitians who are not in the president?s camp and are thus excluded from political participation will not accept this move to take over political power.
I anticipate difficult days ahead of us and those people that presaged a smooth transition from Préval II to the next government may have been deluding themselves.
In Haiti, It?s Investment Time
Now that kidnappings have decreased, has our country become the land of opportunity for foreign investors? About five hundred of them visited and attended conferences in the capital, Port-au-Prince, during the month of October.
The tenth Forum of the Enterprises of the Caribbean just ended having facilitated experience-sharing and the signature of contracts where two hundred entrepreneurs from twenty countries participated. The conference lasted three days during which competitiveness, agro-business and tourism were discussed:
?Haiti is breathing a new air necessary to grow from its actual conditions to development?, said the president of the forum while noting ?the extraordinary agricultural potential? of our country.
A Forum on Commercial Promotion also took place to ?discuss the questions concerning commercial promotion mechanisms as well as investment facilitation in the Caribbean.?
The Haitian business sector welcomed the event noting that Haiti offers an environment conducive to business and that public/private partnership has become more than an empty word.
This whole business fever started with the HERO or Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2004. This act, signed by President Bush, offered a preferential treatment for Haiti for its apparel production providing the country develops a market economy and implements political pluralism and the rule of law.
Later, the U.S. Congress passed Hope II to facilitate job creation in the textile industry in Haiti.
Many businessmen are thus attracted by the prospect of producing and exporting at low cost which Haiti offers. This situation creates of course the opportunity for greater profit. In addition, the country presents opportunities in building infrastructure such as roads, ports, airports etc? as well as in tourism and agro-business ?
So, President Préval declared Haiti open to business and visitors have been coming to explore the possibilities. This is a move which takes place at the dawn of presidential and legislative elections to be organized in 2010.
I ask myself if we have the social and political stability necessary to attract massive foreign investment in the country at this precise moment when nobody knows what kind of election we are going to have.
Why the big rush to elections?
In Haiti, there is a rush to organize elections while the debate continues on the question of single party-ism versus pluralism.
But why political parties to begin with, one may ask. Why can?t we just go to elections and vote for someone who doesn?t represent a political party? The answer is that while we might want more democracy than we have now, and want to improve what we have, we do not wish direct democracy or populism which are characterized by the absence of political organizations that are ruled by democratic principles. We want to ensure that we are represented by persons who are members of organizations that themselves abide to the rules and modalities of democracy. We want to give our political system a solid ground.
We want pluralism, meaning that we don?t want to be ruled by a single party which wouldn?t represent the wide variety of viewpoints and ideas out there; and thus wouldn?t reflect the make-up and diversity of our society. Although we don?t want too much diversity or too many parties, we recognize it?s not always good for a people to be led by a single voice and clan.
Under a single-party situation, there is no debate or competition–all processes that are healthy for a balanced government. Furthermore, governing is marked by exclusion rather than inclusion. We want the largest-possible range of views and groups to be included ? although they must find common ground among themselves through alliances, fusions and regroupings.
Besides, why would a single group want to grab it all? Doesn?t that represent a violation of democracy itself, an encroachment of its very definition? Isn?t that dictatorial rather than democratic? If we want to exclude some of the people who want to participate, what would be the basis and what would be the criteria for inclusion or exclusion? Isn?t that a questionable, or even a potentially repressive and abusive practice?
These considerations, questions and apprehensions seem appropriate in the present conjuncture and should be a concern to all who wish a peaceful transition and stability in the country.
The rush to organize the legislative elections in Haiti can accomplish two things: first it would be a disadvantage for those who are not yet organized thus preparing a victory for those who are, namely those in power, the Préval camp; second, it would lay ground for a constitutional amendment in favor of the existing government so it can assure the permanence, and the ?stability? sought to create a political environment for investment. So the argument goes?
La montagne a accouché d?une souris
Once again, there will be legislative and presidential competitions in Haiti, our sixth presidential election in tweny-three years (1987-2010) since our last constitution was adopted and massively approved by an enthusiastic electorate in March 1987.
Everyone was thrilled about the fact that makout pa ladan l, true, but there was also the promise of democracy in our country. Since then, we have only witnessed an electoral process marked by mockery, fraud and deception; and even bloody repression. Obviously, not everybody felt positively excited that day!
According to the constitution we were so enthusiastic about, the Provisional Electoral Council was supposed to have been replaced by a permanent body whose characteristic is to be independent and whose duty is to organize competitions that are credible and impartial and thus accepted.
Political parties that were emerging at the time were supposed to have become better organized and be representative of broader sectors of the people while they present policies and programs that are responsive to people?s needs.
But despite the expectations (and apprehensions) that were created at the meeting at Croix-des-Bouquets where Préval announced he was going to launch a large regrouping in the forthcoming elections, there is no reaction in the political community that matches these news and actions on the part of the president. While he seems successful at attracting many to his regrouping called ?Inite? or Unity, the opposition remains characterized by divisions and dispersion as sixty-nine so-called political parties have registered to participate in the upcoming legislative elections.
Of course, some of these groups have put their forces together and formed some kind of rasanbleman, but one doubts their ability to attract a large representation that could seriously compete with the other side since the votes will be generally scattered.
In other words, the Haitian people seem, if and when presidential elections take place, headed toward a similar situation as in 2006 where Préval was able to achieve a score of 48 percent and the second candidate scored only 11 percent. Will there be a second round this time?
In fact, Haiti, while confronting a period of transition from the repressive and dictatorial regime of the Duvaliers to an inclusive political system as proposed in the 1987 constitution, is the subject of a silent but intensely polarized debate.
This debate opposes anti-democratic forces to those who hold high the ideal and principles of a pluralistic government as our constitution wants and proposes it, based on the premises that our people want to participate and to improve the conditions of their lives.
The political events of 1985-86 indicated something new: this time the people took the streets not only to overthrow a government but to change a system that was repressive, dictatorial and retrograde. The people wanted a new system and those personalities who drafted the 1987 constitution were aware and understood this new element of our history. It wasn?t as before a mere ?transfer of power? as happened from Lescot to Estimé, or Estimé to Magloire, or Magloire to Duvalier. What was wanted was a transformation of the regime, a transition from exclusion to inclusion, from repression to freedom, from poverty to economic development.
This change has not yet happened in Haiti.
Caught between those who are not willing to bring about a functional democracy and those who are not yet able to do so, I ask myself when this new democratic system of government will see the light of day.