U.S. lawmakers warn of flaws in Haiti vote process
(See below for text of letter and signatures of 45 members of U.S. Congress, or link here)
* Exclusion of some parties seen undermining credibility
* Could disrupt reconstruction after huge earthquake
* Party of exiled ex-President Aristide among those barred
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE- The United States should only support November elections in Haiti if they include all eligible political parties, a group of U.S. lawmakers said, warning they saw signs of flaws that could be a "recipe for disaster."
In a letter sent this week to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the members of Congress said failure to hold free, fair and inclusive presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 28 could endanger Haiti's governance and reconstruction after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Democratic signers of the letter headed by California Representative Maxine Waters expressed concern that Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council had excluded candidates from more than a dozen parties, including the country's largest, Fanmi Lavalas, loyal to exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The lawmakers urged Clinton to demand the elections include all eligible political parties and easy access to voting for all Haitians, including 1.5 million people displaced by the quake that wrecked Port-au-Prince and killed up to 300,000.
"The United States government should also state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements," the letter said.
"Obviously, we want free, fair and democratic, transparent elections to take place in Haiti as well and we'll look into these allegations in the letter," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters, declining further comment.
Led by the United Nations, the international community is funding and supporting the upcoming elections in the Western Hemisphere's poorest state as part of a multibillion-dollar aid and reconstruction effort following the quake.
"Although some may argue that Haiti has more pressing problems, allowing flawed elections now will come back to haunt the international community later," the U.S. lawmakers said.
"Haiti's next government will be called upon to make difficult decisions in the reconstruction process that will have a lasting impact on Haitian society, such as land reform and allocation of reconstruction projects among urban and rural areas. Conferring these decisions on a government perceived as illegitimate is a recipe for disaster," they added.
FEARS OF PROTESTS
The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, said last week he believed conditions existed for the country to hold successful, credible elections. He said more than 4 million voters had registered, 66 political parties were participating and 19 presidential candidates were running.
"You have quite an interesting diversity of candidates from different groups and ideologies ... so the choice is there," Mulet told Reuters.
Haiti's general elections were originally due to take place on Feb. 28 but were postponed because of the quake, which left more than a million people homeless, living in tent camps.
The Provisional Electoral Council had already blocked Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas, which remains a strong mobilizing force, from participating in 2009 legislative contests because of a dispute over rival candidate lists.
Electoral officials said Fanmi Lavalas leaders had failed to provide legally required registration documents and its exclusion was being upheld for the November polls. They also excluded popular Haitian-American hip-hop star Wyclef Jean as a presidential candidate on the grounds he did not meet eligibility requirements, a decision he angrily protested.
President Rene Preval, who cannot seek re-election after two terms in office, has rejected accusations by opponents that he interfered in the electoral registration process to keep Fanmi Lavalas out. He has also rebuffed foreign suggestions the electoral council be restructured.
Despite Fanmi Lavalas' explicit exclusion, the presidential and congressional candidates contesting the Nov. 28 election include supporters of the barred party and of Aristide.
The U.S. lawmakers said in their letter they feared that "running transparently unfair, exclusive elections, with the support of the international community, will leave many Haitians to conclude that they have no choice but to protest."
Like Mulet, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said last week he was confident the vote could be held peacefully. "I believe nobody will take the risk of being responsible for stopping that process today," Bellerive told Reuters.
October 7, 2010