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Haiti needs legitimate leaders right now. Unfortunately, the elections set for November 28, 2010 are a sham. Here are five reasons why the world community should care.
First, Haitian elections are supposed to choose their new President, the entire House of Deputies and one-third of the country’s Senate. But election authorities have illegally excluded all the candidates from the country’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas – and other progressive candidates. Lavalas, the party of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has won many elections in Haiti – probably the reason it was excluded. If this were the US, this would be like holding elections just between the Tea Party and the GOP – and excluding all others. Few Haitians will respect the outcome of these elections.
Second, over 1.3 million Haitian survivors are struggling to raise their families in 1,300 tent refugee camps scattered around Port au Prince. The broken Haitian political system and the broken international NGO system have failed to provide Haitians with clean water, education, jobs, housing, and access to healthcare almost a year after the earthquake. Now cholera, a preventable and treatable disease, has taken the lives of over 1,600 people. Some are predicting that the infection could infect as many as 200,000 Haitians and claim 10,000 lives. Without legitimate leaders Haiti cannot hope to build a society which will address these tragedies.
Third, because the elections are not expected to produce real leaders, Haiti is experiencing serious protests on a daily basis. Protests have occurred in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien, where two people died in clashes with the authorities. In other protests, like a recent one in Port au Prince, demonstrators representing 14 Haitian grassroots groups try to stage peaceful protests. But when UN peace keeping forces arrived they drew their weapons on demonstrators. As the crowd fled for safety, the UN and Haitian police threw teargas canisters into the crowd and the nearby displacement camp, Champ de Mars. Residents were taken to the hospital with injuries from the teargas canisters. The media has wrongfully typecast the political demonstrations as “civil unrest” filled with angry, drunk rioters. No one mentions that much of the violence has been instigated by the law enforcement, not the demonstrators. Faux elections are not going to help deliver stability.
Fourth, political accountability has never been more important in Haiti than right now. The Haitian government must guide Haiti’s reconstruction and make important decisions that will shape Haitian society for decades. Yet, many of the three million Haitians affected by the earthquake are ambivalent about the elections or do not want them to take place at all.
Fifth, the United States has pushed and paid for these swift elections hoping to secure a stable government to preserve its investment in earthquake reconstruction. But, as Dan Beeton wrote in the LA Times, “If the Obama administration wants to stand on the side of democracy and human rights in Haiti, as it did in Burma, it should support the call to postpone the elections until all parties are allowed to run and all eligible voters are guaranteed a vote.” By supporting elections that exclude legitimate political parties that are critical of the current government the international community is only assuring the very social and political unrest it hopes to avoid.
Haitians are saying that no matter which candidates win on November 28, the political system that has failed them will not change unless there is an election that is fair and inclusive. They are also asking that the country undergo a reconciliation process that includes the voices of more than just the Haitian elite and international community.
Haiti desperately needs legitimate leaders. The November 28 sham election will not provide them.
Bill Quigley is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicole Phillips is staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Contact Nicole at Nicole@ijdh.org