On Sunday April 19, Haitians will vote in a partial Senate election to fill 12 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats. The election is the subject of controversy for its exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political party in Haiti.
Haiti’s Provisional Election Council (CEP)’s initially barred Lavalas candidates citing a split in the party that led to the submission of two slates of candidates. The exclusion of Lavalas prompted the UN, the U.S. and Canada to call for compromise.
Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard issued a statement saying that elections “must unite, not divide, the population,” with the U.S. and the UN issuing similar calls for political reconciliation.
This international pressure pushed the CEP to extend the deadline for registering candidates, and Lavalas issued a single compromise list of its candidates. However, the CEP then excluded Lavalas on procedural grounds, claiming that the signature of the head of the party, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was needed on paperwork finalising the list. Aristide, of course, remains in exile in South Africa after a Canada, France and United States supported coup overthrew his elected government on February 29, 2004.
On March 9, 2009 a tribunal led by judge Jean-Claude Douyon ruled to overturn the CEP decision. The CEP stated that it would ignore the judge’s ruling, and on April 3, President Rene Preval’s Minister of Justice fired Douyon. The CEP is itself made up of representatives picked by Preval.
Many in Haiti now see the CEP’s decision as a manipulation by Preval’s Lespwa party to exclude Lavalas. Preval won the 2006 presidential elections with the support of Lavalas, whose own presidential candidate, Gerard Jean-Juste, was held as a political prisoner by the unelected 2004-2006 interim regime.
Journalist Kevin Pina reports that an analyst close to the CEP, speaking anonymously, said, “It didn’t really matter what Lavalas did … [Lavalas’] political infighting only provided the CEP with a convenient excuse to exclude them. They don’t feel they need them [Lavalas] to legitimize the April 19 elections.”
The exclusion of Lavalas seems to suit the UN, the U.S. and Canada; all three have stayed silent on the CEP’s second ruling and its decision to flaunt the law. Furthermore, the UN military force MINUSTAH, whose 9000 troops have occupied Haiti since June 2004, is cooperating with the CEP in distributing election material.
The Canada Haiti Action Network is calling on the UN and the governments of Canada, the U.S. and Haiti to renounce the undemocratic exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas and the continued exile of former President Aristide.
The exclusion of Lavalas and the ongoing exile of Aristide do nothing to contribute to inter-Haitian reconciliation. Instead, these countries and organizations are colluding to exacerbate political tension in Haiti, and inflict further misery among a people that have heroically struggled for peace.
Stuart Hammond is a researcher and Psychology PhD student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby and a member of Haiti Solidarity BC in Vancouver.