Sunday, November 28, 2010

Haiti election preview

Since my promise to “comment further.. on the roman-fleuve sans Clef that the Haitian presidential field represents” there has been a procession of pro-Lavalas voices calling for a boycott of the election, and no shortage of reasons for its boycott, including the exclusion of a party with the overwhelming support of the public and piles of allegations of election corruption including charges by at least two candidates that the party backed by the incumbent is distributing weapons to its gangs for election violence. During that time, support by likely voters inclined to support Lavalas has coalesced behind Jean Henry Céant, a former Lavalas insider and close aid to Aristide that, though not as well-known as Yvon Neptune before the race, has run a much better campaign and has more unambiguously opposed Préval and spoken in support of Lavalas. One of the voices calling for a boycott is Aristide, which may lower turnout for Céant.

You can read the US papers and find out who the small upper class supports: Préval choice Jude Célestin, who supervises Haiti's backhoe equipment; Joseph Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, who like Wyclef Jean is an anti-Aristide hip hop artist with friends in Duvalier's military; Charles Henri Baker, an industrialist that received 8% of the vote against Préval in 2006; and former senator Myrlande Hyppolite Manigat, whose husband, Leslie, received 12% for second in 2006. Célestin will be hurt by Préval's enormous unpopularity but he has name recognition from being on billboards all over the country and is the most likely beneficiary of corruption; Manigat may lead this set of candidates.

No reliable polls have been published, but with the choice of a vast majority of the voters somewhat unified and that of the elites more divided, with a clean election you could easily anticipate a margin for Céant above the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, but I'd expect a runoff of Céant and Manigat. I can't imagine Céant losing a runoff.

This is indeed an ugly election owing to Lavalas' exclusion, displaced voters, a notable percentage of voters without the required ID card, and a cholera epidemic which numerous health experts say is greatly exceeding reported numbers of victims and has led to widespread demonstrations against UN military presence. A victory for Céant offers the possibility of the restoration of Haitian autonomy, rebuilding of civic institutions which were lacking before the earthquake, and promise of legality of elections in which Fanmi Lavalas is allowed to field candidates in the future and Aristide's safety is assured after he's issued a new passport. Céant may betray these goals and I'm not going to offer prescriptions from my safe American home about boycotting or not boycotting, but holding out for justice for a wronged party apparatus may temporarily be less important than uniting behind someone who promises to restore it, even though Préval, not so long ago, made that same promise.