Haiti: Aristide returns, two killed in “calm” vote

Observers said Haiti’s March 20 presidential and legislative runoff elections were relatively calm, at least in comparison to the chaotic first round on Nov. 28. A number of polling places in the capital opened hours late, apparently because the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member military and police occupation force, failed to get voting materials to them on time. In some cases voters held spontaneous protests over the delays. There were also a few armed confrontations: two people were killed and three were wounded in electoral disputes, one at Marre Rouge, Northwest department, and the other at Marchand Dessalines, in the North department’s Artibonite region.

There were no official estimates of the turnout, but Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, who temporarily heads United Nations operations in Haiti, said it was higher than in the first round, and some other observers agreed. Turnout in the first round was just 22.87%, according to official figures.

The presidential runoff was between two conservatives, Mirlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) and popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response). At stake in the legislative runoff were 79 of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and seven of the 27 seats in the Senate. Preliminary results aren’t expected until March 31, with the final results to be announced on Apr. 16. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, March 20; Radio France Internationale, March 20; AlterPresse, Haiti, March 20)

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) returned to Haiti from exile in South Africa two days before the elections, on March 18, ignoring a US request to wait until after the vote. Thousands of supporters greeted him, and many were still gathered around his house in the Tabarre suburb northeast of the capital as of March 19. In a speech he made shortly after arriving, Aristide said he was planning to devote himself to education. He made no direct reference to the elections, although his call for “inclusion” rather than “exclusion” was generally interpreted as a reference to the exclusion of his party, Lavalas Family (FL) from the ballot. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse, Haiti, March 18)

Although he remains quite popular, it isn’t clear how much influence Aristide will have on the political situation. He has served two terms as president, although both were cut short, and under the 1987 Constitution he cannot run for a third term. “In the current context, he’s not the same person” as he was before his exile, former Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul told the AlterPresse internet news service. “He can’t have a personal political agenda… and I doubt he can orient things the way he wants,” said Paul, who was once an ally of Aristide and later a bitter opponent. Paul questioned Aristide’s ability to pull together the FL, which has been divided by struggles between factions. (AlterPresse, March 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 20.

See our last post on Haiti.