News from Haiti

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Haiti needs peace, legitimate vote count - Miami Herald


Haiti needs a legitimately elected government if it is to have any hope for a turnaround. It also needs for cooler heads to prevail until all votes are counted and credible results are announced. Such a scenario is in the best interest of clear presidential front-runner René Préval, his supporters and all who wish for a better fortune for Haiti.

It is better for Mr. Préval to wait out the electoral process to ensure results that are legally uncontestable, even if that takes more time. Conversely, it does him and Haiti no good to have a new presidency marred by electoral improprieties or violent protests.

`Be mature, nonviolent'

At this point, with questions being raised about invalidated and missing vote-tally sheets, an international panel of election experts should be convened to examine the disputed items and, ultimately, to validate Haiti's vote results.

Mr. Préval did well yesterday in calling for his supporters ''to be mature, to be responsible, to be nonviolent.'' Doing so defused some of the tension in Port-au-Prince. Those supporters had paralyzed the capital with barricades and largely peaceful protests on Monday. Their protests had raised the specter of violence if Mr. Préval were not declared the presidential winner in this first-round vote. Mr. Préval was less diplomatic in declaring that ``either massive fraud or gross errors stain the (electoral) process.''

The concerns are understandable given Haiti's history of fraudulent elections. Electoral officials didn't help by promising quick election results, thereby raising unrealistic expectations. Another problem was their release of partial results. Last week Mr. Préval appeared to have a runaway lead of 61 percent of the vote in a field of 33 candidates. On Monday the number had dropped to 49 percent, with 90 percent of ballots counted, raising suspicions of fraud.

That's why the international community, including the U.S. government, should recruit independent election experts to review any questionable vote tallies and affirm that good-faith efforts have been made to find and include all valid votes in the election counts.

Popular candidate

This would boost the transparency and credibility of the process. We also urge Mr. Préval to accept the results validated by such a process. Even if the election goes to a second-round vote, Mr. Préval is far and away the most popular candidate. Following the legal electoral process would set a precedent for the rule of law, which is sorely needed in Haiti.

In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council did well to extend the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti and urge Haitians to maintain the peace. Haiti has had too much political violence for too long. This is the opportunity for a fresh start.