Monday, December 19, 2005

Elections- A Haitian Civics Lesson:

Haiti has been waiting for elections since February 29, 2004 when Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed to Africa. After multiple postponements, the first election is scheduled for January 8, 2006, with a runoff to be held in February if necessary. More than 40 people are candidates for president and I can speak knowledgeably about none of them. Let me tell you what few facts I know.

According to the polls, the most popular candidate is Rene Preval, who was the prime minister in the early 90s, as a Lavalas candidate. Lavalas is the party of Aristide. Now Preval is running under the Lespwa party. Preval had the good fortune to draw the #1 spot on the ballot. He is disliked among people who don’t like Aristide (i.e. the well to do). The owner of our lodging establishment was bemoaning the fact that the election will probably produce another leader just like Aristide. I assume he was talking about Preval. Preval’s election posters are everywhere. As John and I were tap tapping it up Delmas yesterday, we saw numerous posters of his with his face was covered ominously in red paint? A warning or a threat? Who knows?

The second most popular candidate, again according to the polls, is Dumarais Simeus, a rich businessman, who talks a really good game about cleaning up Haiti’s corruption, i.e. ending business as usual. The hitch? He’s a U.S. citizen, and a Texan to boot. Despite his U.S. citizenship, he got Haiti’s Supreme Court to state he was eligible for the ballot. The second time the court voted thusly, Gerard Latortue, Haiti’s interim prime minister, fired five of the justices, an act that’s not allowed by Haiti’s widely ignored constitution. In practice, it’s probably not a good idea if citizens from other countries are eligible to run for president. But I really like some of the things that Simeus says—as an independent rich guy, he might be more immune from all the shady activities that seem to characterize Haiti’s government—and the fact that Latortue doesn’t like him is a vote in his favor.

Some of the other cast of characters include Marc Bazin, a past U.S. government favorite who is unbelievably running on the Lavalas ticket (probably trying to capitalize on the party’s popularity), Guy Phillippe, an ex-soldier thug, who helped drive out Aristide, and Charles Henri Baker, a businessman, whose skin is whiter than mine, lest you think all Haitians are black. There’s a sizeable, prominent Haitian-Lebanese population here. There are about 35 other candidates that I don’t know enough about to offer any information.

People who believe that Aristide was driven from office unfairly think these elections are a sham. What’s the point in voting if the people’s choice can be ousted by the powerful? And reports indicate not nearly as many polling places have been set up as for past elections. However, the limbo period of the interim government has been dragging on for so long now—almost two years—that most Haitians of all political stripes seem to just want to get the danged elections over with so the country can move on to its next crisis and/or set of corrupt, incompetent leaders.

I think if the fix isn’t in, Preval will prevail (sorry), he has such a commanding lead. But a smart, young physician we know thinks that whomever the U.S. government wants elected will win, and that surely isn’t Preval. There’s a lot of evidence from the U.S. “escorting” Aristide out of the country to the appointment of Gerard Latortue, a Boca Raton, Florida resident as the interim prime minister that Uncle Sam calls the shots in Haiti. If that’s the case, then maybe we should end all the behind the scenes nonsense and declare Haiti the 51st state. Now, there’s a provocative thought upon which to end a post.

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