News from Haiti

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mr Preval's error and stabilising Haiti

Wednesday, February 15, 2006, Jamaica Observer. The latest developments in Haiti provide a bittersweet experience for us. For we were heartened by the voter turnout last week in our sister Caribbean country as Haitians flocked to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to elect a president. Now, however, we have cause for concern as the electoral council appears to be marking time with the election results and Mr Rene Preval has, in our judgement, erred in asking his supporters to protest peacefully against what he says is "massive fraud or gross errors" in the process.

Let us make it very clear that we believe in, and support Mr Preval's right to request an investigation into the electoral process once he believes that there have been irregularities.

We would support, too, his call for peaceful protest if Haiti was a stable society. But the reality is that it is not. For even before Mr Preval spoke yesterday, his supporters, suspecting some form of chicanery in the counting of the votes, started protesting on Sunday and on Monday erected and set fire to roadblocks in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

Their fear was that an attempt was being made to prevent Mr Preval, the former protégé of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from getting the 50 per cent plus one vote he needs to win the presidency and avoid a March runoff against second-place finisher Mr Leslie Manigat.

Not surprisingly, in such a charged atmosphere, shots were fired and at least one protester was killed. Mr Preval, therefore, ran the risk of inflaming passions, despite his pacifist posture. Because people who have been denied their democratic rights for as long as the Haitian people, are hardly likely to remain calm if they perceive that efforts are being made to undermine their franchise.

If the reports coming out of Haiti are accurate, Mr Preval needs to appeal to his supporters to allow election workers free passage to the election centres in order that they may complete the vote count quickly, before the country descends deeper into chaos.

But it seems to us that the electoral council also owes the Haitian people an explanation as to what caused the delay in the final results beyond last weekend's expected release.

The bottom line is that the country needs to settle down and set about the business of improving the quality of life of its citizens. That, we accept, will not be easy, but Haiti's Caricom neighbours and the international community, we believe, are willing to assist.