"Justice. Verite. Independance."
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
April 22 - 28, 2009
Vol. 2, No. 40
APRIL 19, 2009:
by Kim Ives
Haitian voters overwhelmingly shunned partial Senate elections held on Sunday, April 19, respecting a boycott called by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family (FL), by far the nation's largest political party. The boycott came in response to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) disqualifying FL candidates from running for the 12 of 30 Senate seats up for grabs (see Haiti Liberté, Vol. 2, No. 31, 2/18/2009).
Most press and observer estimates put participation at "under 10%." But Senator Jean Hector Anacacis, a member of President René Préval's own party, Lespwa (Hope), called the polling "a foreseeable fiasco," estimating participation between 1% and 3%.
The Lavalas Family's boycott campaign was called "Operation Closed Doors, Empty Streets," which is exactly what election day produced. Early Sunday morning, streets in normally bustling Port-au-Prince and Pétionville were eerily empty and quiet, patrolled by slow-moving police trucks with their lights on and bristling armored vehicles of the U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The boycott was helped by the government ban on all motor vehicle traffic and sales of alcohol from Saturday night until early Monday morning.
In the capital's teeming Bel Air neighborhood, at the voting center at the Dumarsais Estimé National School, the 12 voting stations had collected a total of 37 ballots shortly before closing at 4 p.m., according the MINUSTAH website. Another Port-au-Prince voting station at the St. Anne school saw only 40 of the 450 people registered there vote.
Haitian police, U.N. soldiers, and yellow-shirted "Election Security" personnel outnumbered voters at most polling places.
"Préval did not encourage people to go to the polls," complained a right-wing politician on the radio. "He preferred to leave for the Summit [of the Americas in Port-of Spain]. He strengthened the Lavalas boycott by banning the movement of all tap-taps," the colorful Haitian buses.
On April 16, Ronald St. Jean, a well-known human rights activist and independent candidate, withdrew from the running, saying he could not "in good conscience" participate in the elections.
Even the National Council of Political Parties, a coalition of neo-Duvalierist parties headed by right-wing politicians Déjean Bélizaire and Osner Févry, recognized that the elections were "a failure."
Despite the low turn-out, it will take at least eight days for results to be known as ballots are trucked in from the countryside, Jean-Marc Baudot, a Canadian consultant coordinating logistics for the CEP told the Miami Herald.
"This is a stinging setback for the government and the international community which has financially backed these fake elections and for the CEP, which organized this fiasco, spending $16 million," said Patrick Elie, a human rights activist. The U.S., France, Canada and the U.N. gave about $12.5 million for the elections.
In some places, even members of the voting stations (known as BIVs) did not vote, Elie said. "The decision of the CEP to arbitrarily exclude the Lavalas Family party from the election contributed greatly to this failure," he concluded, calling on the CEP to account for the millions it spent.
"Only in this country are the people victim of so much deprivation and misery," said Manes, a resident of Rue Magny in the capital on Sunday morning. "And yet our leaders find more than $16 million to waste just to please the indecent whims of the international community."
So far the CEP's President Frantz Verret has declined to estimate the participation rate. "We can call ourselves happy to have delivered the goods," he said. "The people went to the polls but not en masse. The essential thing was done: the elections took place on the date previously established."
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson tried to minimize the boycott. "Historically, off-year elections in the United States as well as in other countries tend not to be as well-attended as presidential elections," she said. "We'll have to see."
"You have just told me that voters did not go to the polls," responded Préval when asked about the massive voting abstention. He returned from the Summit to vote late Sunday in Bois Verna, "However, I will await the results to be published shortly by the leaders of the Provisional Electoral Council."
Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis was similarly agnostic when she voted in Turgeau. "It is not up to me to determine whether or not the voters have responded," she said. "The essential thing is that I have fulfilled my duty as a citizen because elections are an expression of sovereignty." Haiti's "expression of sovereignty" was held under a deeply unpopular U.N. military occupation.
"We can congratulate ourselves for helping to carry out the April 19 elections," a MINUSTAH spokesperson declared with even more irony. "From a security standpoint, there weren't any major incidents. As for the Police, there were not many arrests."
However, violence was so severe on the Central Plateau that the CEP had to annul elections there. The worst incidents occurred in the town of Mirebalais.
"It was about 1 a.m. when masked individuals, who drove up in a white Nissan Patrol, burst into the electoral office located at the National High School," said voting station chief Fils-Aimé Valbrun from his hospital bed in intensive care. "Furious, they ordered me to sign the ballots and hand them over to them. Faced with my categoric refusal, they pulled out a handgun and shot me in the mouth."
Skirmishes and gunfights between supporters of the rival parties Lespwa, UCADDE, and Fusion, terrorized the townspeople of Mirebalais. An angry crowds almost set fire to the Roseau Hotel belonging to Agriculture Minister and Lespwa big-wig Joanas Gay. A similar stand-off took place at the Mirage Hotel, where some Fusion candidates were housed.
(Ignoring the CEP's decision annulling the elections in the Center Department, UCADDE candidate Willot Joseph and his allies ran through Mirebalais' streets proclaiming their victory.)
Violence flared in other regions. In the northern towns of Acul du Nord and Limbé, right-wing parties participating in the anemic polling clashed. "If you find ballots in the urns, it is not our votes," said one Limbé resident.
In the Nippes Department, some people were wounded in rock thowing. In the Artibonite town of Verrettes, supporters of the party Haiti in Action party were arrested for possession of illegal weapons.
All of the violence was between small rival parties participating in the elections. Election officials had been expecting trouble from the Lavalas Family.
"I want to express my congratulations to the Lavalas Family," said CEP's director general Opont Pierre-Louis with borderline sarcasm. "Despite its call for abstention, its supporters refrained from violence against those who wanted to exercise their civic duties."
Lavalas leaders were also proud of the discipline shown by their frustrated partisans. "We wish to thank the masses for showing so much maturity," said former Lavalas deputy James Derosin. "However, the fight has just begun."
"We solemnly declare that we are in opposition to Préval's policy of exclusion," said Nahoum Marcellus, also a former Lavalas deputy from the North and one of the disqualified Senate candidates. "We re going to mobilize for the return of President Aristide," who remains in exile in South Africa five years after the coup that ousted him on Feb. 29, 2004.
Meanwhile, demonstrations took place on April 20 and 21 in front of the National Palace and the CEP headquarters. On Apr. 16, five young Lavalas Family activists entered the Parliament where they have undertaken a hunger strike to call world attention to the exclusion of the party from the elections. They say they will continue the strike until the elections are annulled.
The Lavalas Family's Permanent Mobilization Commission also declared that April and May would be spent mobilizing to demand the annulment of the elections and their rerun in November when wider parliamentary races will be held. The party also called for an audit of the CEP by the Cour des Comptes (Haiti's General Accounting Office) and the Corruption Fighting Unit (ULCC).
(Based on reporting by Haiti Liberté correspondents Geatjens Pierre, J. Fatal Piard, and Jean Baptiste Jean Ristil)
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