The president of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced on May 24 that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on November 28, the constitutionally prescribed date.
“The CEP is up to the task of organising general elections in the country”, said Gaillot Dorsinvil, who is also the handicapped sector’s representative on the nine-member council, handpicked by President Rene Preval.
But tens of thousands of Haitians don’t agree and have been demonstrating in the streets in recent weeks to demand a new CEP — and Preval’s resignation.
Evans Paul, a leader of the Convention for Democratic Unity (KID) party and the political platform Alternative, said: “Nobody has confidence in Preval or his CEP to organise credible elections.”
Both KID and Alternative, along with other right-wing politicians and parties that supported the 2004 coup against elected-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have joined in an unlikely alliance with popular organisations aligned with Aristide’s party, the Lavalas Family.
The alliance, called Heads Together of Popular Organizations (TKOP), has held three massive demonstrations of many thousands in the capital Port-au-Prince on May 10, May 17, and May 25.
The protests called for Preval’s resignation, Aristide's return from exile in South Africa and the repeal of the “state of emergency” law that puts a foreign-dominated council in charge of Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction, among other demands.
Nobody is more distrustful of Preval’s electoral supervision than Lavalas militants, whose party, Haiti’s largest, was barred in November from taking part in parliamentary elections originally scheduled for February.
Fourteen other parties were also disqualified. The election was cancelled after the January 12 earthquake.
A previous Preval-appointed CEP, containing five members of the current one, also disqualified the Lavalas Family party from parliamentary elections held in April and June 2009. Those elections were massively boycotted, with less than 5% of voters turning out.
On May 25, thousands of demonstrators converged on the crumbled National Palace for the third time in two weeks. Lavalas marchers were joined by “reformed” coup supporters and traditional political parties.
The demonstration was spirited but peaceful. Barricades to prevent marchers from demonstrating in front of the palace were swept away by the crowd, which filled the broad street between the palace fence and the earthquake victims’ tents on Toussaint L’Ouverture Place.
With the announcement of elections, some politicians have stepped back from the anti-Preval protests. Sweatshop owner Charles Henri Baker, a former presidential candidate and leader of the pro-coup Group of 184 front in 2004, took part in the May 18 protest but not the May 25 march.
Other pro-coup politicians, hungry for elections, are expected to follow suit.
A number of popular organisations support the protests, but are extremely suspicious of the formerly pro-coup politicians’ involvement.
The Democratic Popular Movement (MODEP) warned: “We must not repeat the experiences of 1986 and 2004, where the big embassies replaced the fallen chief of state with the complicity of unscrupulous politicians.
“In 1986, after Duvalier fell, the US imperialists replaced Jean-Claude Duvalier with General [Henri] Namphy. In 2004, the US and France were running the show.
“In both cases, the sneaky politicians and the bourgeoisie agreed to play in the imperialist’s dirty game. Today, we must learn our lesson and not be duped again.
“We should be alert for the double-cross, and we should join forces with those whose politics resemble our own.”
On May 24, Brazilian soldiers from the UN Mission to Stabilise Haiti (Minustah), which is militarily occupying Haiti, drove three military vehicles into the State University’s Ethnology College to arrest outspoken anti-occupation student, Frantz Mathieu Jnr.
The soldiers’ illegal entry onto school grounds unleashed a firestorm. Enraged students poured onto the streets, burning one vehicle and smashing the windshields of several others.
One student demonstrator told Haitiliberte.com: “Now, we students are standing up to call for Preval’s removal, and the occupation forces must leave!”
In response, Minustah troops fired rubber bullets, pepper spray and large amounts of tear-gas, afflicting not only student demonstrators but patients in the nearby general hospital.
On May 25, the UN apologised for breaching the university’s grounds.
A similar crackdown occurred on May 18 in the impoverished Cite Soleil neighbourhood, a Lavalas stronghold. Brazilian soldiers fired automatic weapons in all directions.
Rosemond Aristide, Cite Soleil police station division inspector, was in a police vehicle but had to take cover. He said when called officers under his command to come assist him, the Brazilian troops aimed their weapons at the Haitian police, forcing them to retreat.
The Brazilian soldiers arrested Aristide’s family members, who were riding in his vehicle.
The elections are also seen as tarnished by the occupation. Tellingly, Edmond Mulet, Minustah’s civilian chief announced the November elections before Dorsinvil.
The Haitian people took note of the diplomatic gaff.
At both the May 24 student demonstration and the May 25 mass march, the most common slogan after “Down with Preval!” was “Down with occupation!”
Now the rains have begun in earnest and most of those made homeless by the earthquake remain under tarpaulins and tents. Desperation and anger are at all time highs.
Resentment over last year’s electoral fiascos still runs deep. The mass protests so far could prove foretastes of confrontations to come between UN occupation troops and the Haitian people.
[Abridged from Haitiliberte.com. Kim Ives is Haiti Liberte editor.]