One year after a tragic earthquake claimed 230,000 Haitian lives, the island nation’s political future remains clouded by controversy.
The current president, Rene Preval, is widely criticized both at home and abroad. His replacement was to be selected in last November’s elections. The elections would produce a new political order, it was hoped — one viewed as clearly legitimate in the eyes of the Haitian people and the world. That hope was not realized.
The Nov. 28 elections were marred by low turnout. Less than one-fifth of the adult population cast ballots. Irregularities, intimidation, tampering and fraud were widely reported. And there was no clear winner.
But even before the first ballot was cast, the electoral process was mired in controversy.
Some claimed the Provisional Electoral Council was biased in favor of Preval. Others objected that the slate excluded potential candidates such as singer Wyclef Jean and former Haitian ambassador to the U.S. Raymond Joseph. Others were upset that Fanmi Lavalas — which still claims to be Haiti’s largest political party — was not allowed to run a candidate.
Lavalas remains fiercely loyal to two-time president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who lost office in February 2004 and now resides in exile in South Africa. Aristide claims to have been the victim of a conspiracy perpetrated by the United States and Haiti’s elites, and many still regard him as the voice of poor and dispossessed Haitians.
A presidential run-off election between November’s two top vote getters was supposed to be held this January. That had to be postponed due to the shenanigans surrounding the earlier contest.
Ostensibly, November’s top three vote getters were Mirlande Manigat (first), Jude Celestin (second), and Michel Joseph Martelly (third).
But the Haitian government and the Provisional Electoral Council are awaiting a technical report from the Organization of American States to correct the provisional tallies. That report is expected to give the run-off nod to Manigat and Martelly, forcing the Preval-backed Celestin to drop out.
Amid this electoral limbo, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and several prominent left-wing groups are calling for entirely new elections — elections that would include Lavalas and perhaps even permit Aristide’s return.
Blithely ignoring Aristide’s shameful record of polarizing politics, corruption and thuggery, they suggest that he is the indispensable man — the only one with the stature and following needed to rebuild the shattered nation.
Such claims ignore the fact that Aristide pretty well shattered Haiti — and kept it that way. They also ignore the sad political history of the entire region, a textbook littered with “indispensable” individuals who, after being forced out of their countries, returned to play major and highly destructive roles.
Exile and return are not conducive to building stable democracies. Witness what happened under Argentine populist Juan Domingo Peron or revolutionaries like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. The furor of populism and revolutionary ambition is quickly extinguished by a clamor for order.
Haiti’s challenges are rooted deep in the unstable sub-soil of history, culture, social structure, poverty and under-development. Social and economic differences, inequalities and injustices abound, opening the door for radicals who promise to act as tribunes of the people.
Building a viable, sustainable Haiti is a collective challenge.
The nation’s political class and ordinary citizens must mount a sustained effort to rise above the previous standard and end vendetta and class-based politics. Haiti must look forward, not back.
The elections and the run-off, albeit far from perfect, should be allowed to stand. The final winner should immediately pledge to form a coalition regime that includes responsible elements from all parties, including Lavalas. This, not another round of contentious elections, is the way for Haiti to move ahead.
• Ray Walser is a senior policy analyst in Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Readers may write to the author in care of The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: www.heritage.org.