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No Preval, No Haiti

G2Americas | Intelligence Brief

140206 Ė No. 04/06 | International hopes that Haitiís presidential elections on Feb. 7 would be fair and transparent have been destroyed by the countryís nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, which has been accused by two of its directors of manipulating the vote count to force a run-off election in March. All nine of the electoral councilís directors represent opposition political parties opposed to former President Rene Preval, a 63-year-old agronomist who won between 52 percent and 54 percent of the vote, according to exit polls conducted by foreign election observers. In the week since the elections, however, the electoral council has whittled down Prevalís lead during the manual vote tallying process to just under 50 percent, forcing a March 19 run-off vote between Preval and former President Leslie Manigat, who won less than 12 percent of the vote last week.

Many Haitians believe the electoral council is committing fraud, and thousands have already started protesting publicly. The protests will become larger and more violent in coming days. Two electoral council directors charged on Feb. 12 that they have been denied access to vote tally sheets and other information that would confirm whether the vote counting process is legitimate and transparent. One of the officials declared that in his opinion, the results are being manipulated to rob Preval of his first round victory.

G2Americas believes that wealthy Haitian business and political elites that oppose Prevalís election are manipulating the vote count in order to force a run-off in which they hope all opposition groups will join forces to defeat Preval. However, poor Haitians that constitute 77 percent of the population wonít accept what they perceive as a vote count fraud perpetrated by a provisional electoral authority. If Preval is denied what many Haitians perceive as his legitimate democratic victory, Haiti will explode in coming months in waves of political violence that the 9,500 member U.N. peacekeeping force (Minustah) will be unable to contain.

Instead of narrowing the bitter class divisions between poor and rich Haitians, the electoral councilís biased and opaque performance has ensured that Haiti will remain politically and economically ungovernable for years. The councilís actions have also created opportunities for disruptive intrusions into Haitian politics by other countries in the region, including Cuba and Venezuela. Economic stagnation, political instability, and bitter class divisions between poor and wealthy Haitians are fodder for populist radical initiatives and political violence.

If political violence escalates in Haiti in coming months, some instability also could spread to neighboring Dominican Republic, thousands of Haitians may seek to escape their country by sea again, and the resulting crisis would create more difficulties for U.S. strategic interests in the Caribbean. As a result, Caracas and Havana will work to destabilize Haiti even more if Preval is robbed of his presidential victory by the Haitian oligarchy. These efforts might include building political alliances with former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who is currently exiled in South Africa but wants to return home. An alliance between Aristide, Caracas and Havana could produce clandestine financial and strategic support for pro-Aristide gangs in Haiti that would use any aid to buy more weapons.

President Hugo Chavez also likely would pressure the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to maintain Haitiís exclusion from the group until a legitimate democratic government takes power in Port au Prince. The PetroCaribe oil supply initiative Chavez launched last year with Caricom gives the Venezuelan leader an influential voice in Caricom affairs.

Haitiís interim government and its provisional electoral authority are backed officially by the U.N., the OAS and the U.S. government, among other pillars of the ďinternational community.Ē However, if the international community does nothing this week to restore transparency to the Provisional Electoral Council in Port au Prince, any chance that these elections might have ended the Haitian political crisis will disappear. Moreover, Chavez will be handed valuable political ammunition to fire at the U.S. when Washington complains about the lack of transparency and fairness in next Decemberís presidential elections in Venezuela. If the U.S. government allows Haitiís provisional electoral council to cheat the will of a majority of Haitian voters, it cannot claim the moral high ground in challenging any alleged electoral fraud that Chavez might commit in Venezuela to secure his re-election.

There hasnít been much international response yet to the political turmoil created in Haiti by the provisional electoral council. One reason for the slow response is that no one wants to take the lead on Haiti. The international community (i.e. the United States) has been pushing unsuccessfully to establish a democratic government in Haiti since 1990. The Feb. 7 elections were supposed to finally achieve that objective, but wealthy Haitian elites used their control of the provisional electoral council to sabotage any possibility of easing their countryís crisis.

The U.N. planned to extend its Minustah mission in Haiti Ė which includes 7,500 troops and 2,000 civilian police Ė for another six months after the Feb. 7 elections. U.N. officials also assumed that they could start to reduce the peacekeeping force during the second half of 2006 as a new Haitian government with a legitimate voter mandate started to take direct responsibility for law enforcement and security in Haiti. However, after the vote count manipulation during the past week, itís likely that the Minustah forceís deployment in Haiti may have to be extended for another two or three years, at a minimum.

A clean first-round win by Preval would have accomplished two important things. One, political stability might have been restored if the peopleís will had been respected, opening a door for the negotiated disarmament of violent armed gangs. Two, Preval would not have enjoyed a parliamentary majority, and would have been obliged to negotiate alliances with opposition political parties. These alliances would have strengthened the ability of Preval, and the political opposition, to resist pressures from Aristideís Lavalas Family party, which has been a major factor in the political violence that has killed over 2,000 Haitians since September 2004.

By robbing Preval of his legitimate victory, however, the wealthy elites that control the Provisional Electoral Council have strengthened Aristideís hand in Haitiís violent politics. They have also confirmed to Preval that he canít expect their cooperation in forming a viable government. If they are willing to cheat to block his election, they will stop at nothing to sabotage Prevalís government from within as members of a ruling coalition. This implies that Preval will have to negotiate an alliance with Aristideís Lavalas Family party, which would allow the exiled former president to place loyal associates in Prevalís Cabinet and security forces. Before the elections, Preval had indicated repeatedly that he would not rule in Aristideís shadow, and would seek to increase his distance from the former president now in exile. However, Preval canít do that now.

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