Haitians Boycott Senate Elections

Haiti’s largest political movement and party, Fanmi Lavalas, organized a second successful boycott of Senate elections Sunday posing a serious challenge to their credibility.

President Rene Preval’s handpicked Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) excluded the Fanmi Lavalas party from participation in the elections on a technicality. Sundays boycott was called “Operation Closed Door 2” and urged voters to stay away from the polls.

Rene Civil, one of the leaders of the successful boycott campaign stated, “They have to hold the elections again and allow Fanmi Lavalas to participate or face having a parliament that is not recognized as legitimate by the Haitian people. They will swear them into office but no one is going to take them seriously.”

Buses and taxis operated throughout the day unlike the first round of Senate elections held last April 19. Most voters did not take advantage of the lifting of the transportation ban and stayed home. Journalists in Haiti’s ten departments continued to provide reports throughout the day of napping poll workers and near empty ballot boxes. At one point Brazilian ambassador Igor Kipman arrived with a group of observers at a large polling station on the outskirts of the sprawling pro-Lavalas slum of Cite Soleil. Kipman’s menacing security staff and the visiting observers stood virtually alone in the facility as the ambassador commented, “These are great elections. I’m very happy with today’s results.”

Agence Haitienne de Presse (AHP) summed up the situation on Sunday, “Indeed, the election was marked by very low participation perhaps more pronounced than in the first round at the national level. On 19 April, the Electoral Council had tried to explain the success of the first boycott by threats allegedly made against the elections, or because the transit system was not authorized.” This report stood in contrast to the official English version of the elections provided by the Associated Press that sought to downplay the effect of the boycott, “Haitians fed up with chronic poverty and unresponsive leaders stayed away from Senate run-off elections Sunday, ignoring government efforts to improve on the paltry voter turnout that undercut the first round of voting in April.”

The Portuguese language daily Folha, repeated assertions made by CEP president Gerard Frantz Verret that protesters handed out threatening leaflets during a funeral on Thursday for popular priest and Lavalas supporter Father Gerard Jean-Juste. The CEP official claimed that the leaflets “contained death threats against citizens who dare to vote.” While no such leaflet was presented to back up the claim, Verret also demanded that the Ministry of Justice take “public action in motion against all those who undertake to invite the people to abstain from voting and against those who intend to endanger lives and property.” The move was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate members of the Lavalas Mobilization Commission, the organizers of the boycott, ahead of last Sunday’s election. While there were reports of sporadic violence and clashes between Preval’s ruling Lespwa party and its rivals at the polls, none of the incidents were related to the non-violent election boycott called by Fanmi Lavalas.

Sunday’s election was proceeded by an incident on June 18 involving U.N. forces during the funeral procession of Catholic priest and prominent Lavalas supporter Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Witnesses reported that Brazilian soldiers with the U.N. military mission opened fire after attempting to arrest one of the mourners. Another mourner was killed and the U.N. has since denied the shooting claiming that the victim had been killed by either a rock thrown by the crowd or by a blunt instrument. Eyewitnesses and reporters on the scene have countered that the U.N. is trying to cover up the affair and that the victim was felled by a shot fired by Brazilian soldiers as mourners left Haiti’s national cathedral.

The international community and the Obama administration financed and endorsed the controversial Senate elections. While exact figures are difficult to obtain, it is estimated that the two rounds of Senate elections cost over $17 million dollars in a country were the average wage is below $2 per day.



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