U.S. Congress members to Hillary Clinton: Fanmi Lavalas must be included in elections

U.S. lawmakers warn of flaws in Haiti vote process

(See below for text of letter and signatures of 45 members of U.S. Congress, or link here)

* Exclusion of some parties seen undermining credibility
* Could disrupt reconstruction after huge earthquake
* Party of exiled ex-President Aristide among those barred

By Joseph Guyler Delva

Reuters news service, October 8, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE- The United States should only support November elections in Haiti if they include all eligible political parties, a group of U.S. lawmakers said, warning they saw signs of flaws that could be a "recipe for disaster."

In a letter sent this week to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the members of Congress said failure to hold free, fair and inclusive presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 28 could endanger Haiti's governance and reconstruction after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.

The Democratic signers of the letter headed by California Representative Maxine Waters expressed concern that Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council had excluded candidates from more than a dozen parties, including the country's largest, Fanmi Lavalas, loyal to exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The lawmakers urged Clinton to demand the elections include all eligible political parties and easy access to voting for all Haitians, including 1.5 million people displaced by the quake that wrecked Port-au-Prince and killed up to 300,000.

"The United States government should also state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements," the letter said.

"Obviously, we want free, fair and democratic, transparent elections to take place in Haiti as well and we'll look into these allegations in the letter," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters, declining further comment.

Led by the United Nations, the international community is funding and supporting the upcoming elections in the Western Hemisphere's poorest state as part of a multibillion-dollar aid and reconstruction effort following the quake.

"Although some may argue that Haiti has more pressing problems, allowing flawed elections now will come back to haunt the international community later," the U.S. lawmakers said.

"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," they added.

FEARS OF PROTESTS

The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, said last week he believed conditions existed for the country to hold successful, credible elections. He said more than 4 million voters had registered, 66 political parties were participating and 19 presidential candidates were running.

"You have quite an interesting diversity of candidates from different groups and ideologies ... so the choice is there," Mulet told Reuters.

Haiti's general elections were originally due to take place on Feb. 28 but were postponed because of the quake, which left more than a million people homeless, living in tent camps.

The Provisional Electoral Council had already blocked Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas, which remains a strong mobilizing force, from participating in 2009 legislative contests because of a dispute over rival candidate lists.

Electoral officials said Fanmi Lavalas leaders had failed to provide legally required registration documents and its exclusion was being upheld for the November polls. They also excluded popular Haitian-American hip-hop star Wyclef Jean as a presidential candidate on the grounds he did not meet eligibility requirements, a decision he angrily protested.

President Rene Preval, who cannot seek re-election after two terms in office, has rejected accusations by opponents that he interfered in the electoral registration process to keep Fanmi Lavalas out. He has also rebuffed foreign suggestions the electoral council be restructured.

Despite Fanmi Lavalas' explicit exclusion, the presidential and congressional candidates contesting the Nov. 28 election include supporters of the barred party and of Aristide.

The U.S. lawmakers said in their letter they feared that "running transparently unfair, exclusive elections, with the support of the international community, will leave many Haitians to conclude that they have no choice but to protest."

Like Mulet, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said last week he was confident the vote could be held peacefully. "I believe nobody will take the risk of being responsible for stopping that process today," Bellerive told Reuters.

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October 7, 2010

Dear Secretary Clinton:
 
We are writing to express our concerns about the November 28 presidential and parliamentary elections in Haiti. We believe it is imperative that these elections be free, fair, and inclusive, and result in a government that is legitimate and perceived as legitimate. The November 28 elections are particularly important to re-establish an effective legislature, establish political accountability for the expenditure of large amounts of money, and resolve Haiti's current societal disputes in a peaceful and democratic manner.
 
As it currently stands, Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has decided to exclude candidates from over a dozen political parties from participating in the elections, including Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti's largest political party. The exclusion will undermine both Haitians right to vote and the resulting government's ability to govern.
 
Last November, the CEP, which was appointed through a process not recognized in Haiti's Constitution, excluded 14 parties from parliamentary elections then scheduled for February 2010, without providing a written, comprehensive explanation. Although those elections were postponed and rescheduled for this November 28, the CEP refused to revisit the disqualifications, which have been widely condemned by civil society and parties across Haiti's political spectrum. A previous CEP, with many of the same members, also excluded Fanmi Lavalas and other parties from Senatorial elections in April 2009. Haitian voters boycotted, and most observers estimated a 3-6% voter turnout.
 
Although some may argue that Haiti has more pressing problems, allowing flawed elections now will come back to haunt the international community later. 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.
 
Haiti's next government will also have to ask its citizens to make sacrifices, such as losing land through eminent domain, or take risks, such as relocating to a new displacement camp. Citizens are unlikely to sacrifice for or trust a government that obtained power through dishonest means.
 
President John Kennedy famously remarked,  "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. " Running transparently unfair, exclusive elections, with the support of the international community, will leave many Haitians to conclude that they have no choice but to protest the elections and the consequent government through social disruption. That disruption threatens to severely limit such a government's ability to govern, and imperils the United States' past and future investments in Haiti's reconstruction.
 
The CEP and international community must also ensure that all Haitians entitled to vote are afforded the opportunity to do so. This includes all those who have lost their voting cards and other identity documents in the earthquake this year, as well as those who have turned 18 since the last elections in 2006. We are particularly concerned that the 1.5 million people who have been internally displaced have access to identity cards and polling stations close to the camps where they live so that they can vote. This is also essential to holding legitimate elections.
 
We call on you to make a clear statement that elections must include all eligible political parties and ready access to voting for all Haitians, including the displaced. The United States government should also state unequivocally that it will not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements.
 
Sincerely,
 
Maxine Waters; Donald Payne; William Delahunt; Barbara Lee; Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Alcee L. Hastings; Charles B. Rangel; Jan Schakowsky; Dennis Kucinich; Hank Johnson; Jim McDermott; Yvette D. Clarke; John W. Olver; Keith Ellison; Sam Farr; Donna M. Christensen; Raoul Grijalva; Michael Honda; Betty McCollum; Laura Richardson; Alan Grayson; Chellie Pingree; Eleanor Holmes Norton; Danny K. Davis; Sheila Jackson Lee; Elijah Cummings; Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick; Lynn Woolsey; Chaka Fattah; Fortney "Pete" Stark; Al Green; Stephen Lynch; Donna F. Edwards; John Lewis; Bob Filner; Diane Watson; Bennie G. Thompson; Tammy Baldwin; John Garamendi; Bobby L. Rush; Jesse L. Jackson Jr.; Bart Gordon; Melvin L. Watt; Corrine Brown; Lucille Roybal-Allard
 
Members of Congress