Despite Lead in Run-Offs, Préval’s Party Likely to Face Parliamentary Obstructionism


Espwa, the electoral coalition of Haiti’s President-elect René Préval, has won the most parliamentary seats of any party in the April 21 run-off elections, according to partial results issued by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). But, as expected, Préval’s party – Hope, in English – will have to forge a political alliance to gather the parliamentary majority needed to select the Prime Minister, Haiti’s most powerful executive post, and pass legislation.

But some observers predict that Espwa’s rival parties – which almost universally supported the Feb. 29, 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide – will benefit from CEP vote rigging, working to destabilize and hamstring Préval’s government.

“We foresee that there are going to be problems in the Parliament,” said Emile Jean-Baptiste of SOS, a political reflection group, in an Apr. 25 interview with Radio Solidarité. “The [pro-coup sector’s] plan [to steal the presidency] was foiled but nonetheless it succeeded for the Parliament.”

About one million Haitians – close to 30% of Haiti’s 3.5 million eligible voters – turned out to elect 30 senators and 97 deputies in Haiti’s second round of national legislative elections, said David Wimhurst, the spokesman for the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) on Apr. 24. The CEP said participation was 28.31%. This was well below the 60% participation rate in the Feb. 7 first round, during which only two deputies – St. Louis Fleurimé of Serge Gille’s social-democratic Fusion party and Francenet Dénius of protestant pastor Chavannes Jeune’s Union party – won seats.

“Isn’t a low voter turn-out precisely what they wanted?” asked Jean-Baptiste, speaking of the CEP, Washington, Paris, Ottawa, and the pro-coup parties. “It facilitates manipulation of the results... The ‘international community’ doesn’t have a problem with low turn-out as long as it contributes to their objective: to control the parliament so that they can work on the executive.”

Espwa has so far won 11 of 24 tabulated Senate races and 20 of the 41 tabulated Chamber of Deputies seats, the CEP announced Apr. 24. A majority in the Senate requires 16 seats and in the Chamber, 50 seats. Candidates from Aristide’s Lavalas Family party (FL), possibly Espwa allies, have won two Senate seats and three Deputy seats. Only a handful of unauthorized Lavalas candidates ran since the FL, along with the National Popular Party (PPN), officially boycotted the de facto and occupation-run elections, calling them “selections.”

Indeed, a Parliamentary “selection” may have been achieved, Jean-Baptiste observed. “I heard members of the [bourgeoisie’s] ‘civil society’ talking, and that confirmed what we suspected,” he said. “It will be a parliament where the opposition, the CEP, the Coucil of the Wise [which appointed the de facto government], the Group of 184 [the Washington-spawned pro-coup civil society front], and all those who were there before, who put in place this [de facto] power, will work with an attitude to create blockage... It was Mr. Rosny Desroches and Mr. Christian Rousseau that I heard talking. They said it plainly, that we will see what will happen. After we saw what happened on Feb. 7 where the population showed its desire for democracy, for peace, we think it is very, very unfortunate that people would lead us into the politics of destabilization again.”

Despite the low turn-out, calm generally prevailed throughout the country during the vote. However, there were a number of cases of violence. In the northern town of Grande Saline, in the Artibonite Valley, Bertin Désir, a polling station observer for a one political party, was shot by his cousin, Ricardo Désir, an observer for a rival party. At least three other people were wounded after partisans of different candidates clashed. Due to the incidents, elections in that town were cancelled for the second time.

Also in the Artibonite, in the town of Verrettes, Jean Beauvois Dorsonne, a candidate for deputy of Youri Latortue’s Party of the Artibonite in Action (LAA) went into hiding after shooting and wounding a Haitian election observer, Marc Michel, of the National Observer Council (CNO).

In Lascahobas, on the Central Plateau, Charlemagne Denaud, the candidate for deputy of the social-democratic Struggling People’s Party (OPL), was threatened by partisans of Markenz Sigué, Fusion’s candidate.

Meanwhile in the northern town of Savanette, voting was disrupted when one candidate’s supporters stormed the polling center, threating election officials there.

Electoral Council officials said that similar incidents occurred in the south-west Grand'Anse province, in the counties of Moron and Pestel, where armed men terrorized voters and election officials. In the southwestern town of Nippes, the president of a voting station was arrested for trying to rig the vote for a candidate.

There were also about a dozen people arrested in the northern town of Acul, near Cap Haïtien, with bundles of pre-filled out ballots.

Several election observers said that voter turn-out was very low, compared to the 60% participation of the first round.

Johan Van Hecke, the head of the European Union’s election observer mission, originally underestimated voter participation at less than 15%, but later revised his estimate upwards.

Many were critical of the EU observers for refusing to criticize Haitian electoral authorities, who refused to let people vote because their names were not found on voter rolls, although they had their electoral cards .

“It is very ironic that they talk about low voter turn-out while people who wanted to vote were turned back from the polls by election authorities right under the nose of European observers,” said one journalist covering the vote at “Building 2004' where the inhabitants of Cité Soleil voted, according to the Haitian Press Agency. Many voters simply went to the polling station where they voted in the February 7 first-round only to find that their names were not on the voter list there.

Electoral Council officials defended their refusal to let people who went to the wrong station vote, saying that voters had been instructed over the radio to consult the Electoral Council’s Internet site and posted electoral rolls before the elections.

But Haitian voters complain that most of them have no access to the Internet and that it was impossible to find one’s name in the labyrinth of lists put out by the Electoral Council. Many voters say that the Electoral Council did everything in its power to lower voter participation.

Under Haiti's constitution, the party or coalition with the most parliamentary seats gets to choose the prime minister, who acts as head of government and appoints Cabinet members and most administrative posts.

Final results are expected in about a week.

(april 26,2006)