Canada is backing a deeply flawed election in Haiti

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The Haitian people were told several months ago by their president and partisan electoral commission that the country would go to the polls on Nov. 28 to elect a new president, legislature and partial senate representation. This event has many Haitians and international observers speaking out against it, and not only because of the deteriorating humanitarian calamity in the country. Months before the terrible cholera outbreak struck, the country's largest and most representative political party, the Fanmi Lavalas of exiled, former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, was ruled off the ballot by the Provisional Electoral Commission.

Imagine the holding of an election in Canada in which Elections Canada declared on a flimsy technicality that one or more of the Liberal, Conservative, NDP or Bloc Quebecois parties were inadmissible to run. The country would be up in arms.

Something similar to the above scenario has been going on in Haiti for several years. No wonder, then, that so many Haitians are condemning the Nov. 28 vote as a "selection" and are protesting in the streets without. Sadly, this electoral spectacle has not prompted a peep of concern in major media in Canada, nor from our members of parliament. Yet, Canadians should be deeply concerned because $5.8 million of Canadian tax dollars are financing what can only be called an electoral sham. That's the amount of backing announced by Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon on Oct. 5.

Haiti's electoral commission provided no credible reason for the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, nor for many of the other 13 parties whose applications to run for the presidency were rejected. The party was earlier banned from the two-round, partial senate election held in April/June 2009. The reason cited was a technical one -- the party was accused of failing to fill in its registration paperwork correctly, a charge its leaders and legal representatives hotly denied, and against which they provided counter-proof.

Following a call for a boycott of that election, less than five per cent of the electorate turned out.

In Nov. 2009, Fanmi Lavalas was again excluded, this time from the national election that was to take place in February, 2010. This month's election is the postponed version of that vote.

Canada, the U.S. and other major powers in Haiti began pressing for the holding of an election within months of the disastrous earthquake. Why the rush? Countries find many ways to effectively govern themselves in the face of calamitous events. Voices such as that of Haiti's leading human rights attorney, Mario Joseph, are saying that the Haitian government and foreign powers should be working to bring Haitians together in a national dialogue and plan for reconstruction.

The country's former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, and his wife Mildred sounded this theme when they spoke from their exile in South Africa within days of the earthquake. They said they were anxious to roll up their sleeves and get to work with others in the gigantic task of recovery. Ten months later, they still sit in exile.

Joseph recently told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, in a wide-ranging interview, that the pre-conditions for a free and fair election in Haiti do not exist. He says the country's first priority is to have a strong program of national reconstruction in place in which the people have confidence and are fully participant. Then it needs an accurate voter list, easily obtainable voter registration, and polling stations with easy access for the population.

He is concerned that only one of the three pillars of government and constitutional law are operative in Haiti, the presidency. The president of the country's Supreme Court passed away in 2006 and was not replaced. The legislature and senate are dysfunctional. That leaves a president wielding, all proportions guarded, for next to none of the famous aid dollars to Haiti are directed to its government and ministries, extraordinary power.

"If you don't have the judiciary branch to apply the law, if you don't have the legislative branch to control the government, why are we talking about elections?" he says.

Members of the U.S. Congress share Joseph's and others' concerns. Forty-five of them penned an open letter last month to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling on her to withhold financial and other support to the flawed election. They wrote, "Haiti's next government will be called upon to make difficult decisions in the reconstruction process that will have a lasting impact on Haitian society, such as land reform and allocation of reconstruction projects among urban and rural areas. Conferring these decisions on a government perceived as illegitimate is a recipe for disaster."

Canadians need to wake up to the fact that very bad decisions by successive federal governments have been made in our name in Haiti, including the endorsement of the violent overthrow of elected government in Haiti in February 2004 and participation in the failed and increasingly despised UN Security Council mission/military occupation force known as MINUSTAH. It's time for a national dialogue in Canada, time for a sharp change in policy in Haiti.

National sovereignty and social justice are the two indispensable tools for meaningful reconstruction in Haiti. The Haitian people are demanding it. Foreign powers like Canada should get out of the way and assist, not hinder, this inevitable path.

Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University's Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario. Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and one of the editors of its website. He resides in Vancouver.

 

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