February 21, 2006

THE GOOD LIFE OF HALF MEASURES:

Haiti's Future: Democracy or Mobocracy? (Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Wall Street Journal)

It won't take long for us to find out whether Mr. Preval -- who served a failed presidential term 1995-2000 -- has learned anything from watching Aristide and his Lavalas Party destroy the nation's fumbling efforts to become a true democracy.

Although many parliamentary seats will be decided in a second round, it looks likely that President Preval may have to deal with a significant opposition. This is a new concept in Haiti, tried only once under the Aristide presidency, which responded to it by nourishing a political culture of intolerance and a subculture of brutality and ruthlessness among young, disenfranchised elements of the population.

Describing this reality in 1991, New York Times writer Howard French quoted Jean-Claude Bajeux, "a human-rights advocate whose organization had [my emphasis] been a supporter" of Aristide: "For Lavalas, the parliament became a negation of the power the people gave Aristide," Mr. Bajeux said. "They reasoned that Aristide should have had all the power because he was the people."

In the same piece, Mr. French described how Lavalas responded when the legislature disagreed with Aristide: "A crowd of at least 2,000 Aristide supporters surrounded the National Assembly on Aug. 13, roughing up two deputies and threatening to burn others alive . . ."

In its latest test of tolerating dissent, the country has done no better, no thanks to the rudderless Organization of American States, one of the election organizers. Consider the facts. With only a small portion of ballots counted, Mr. Preval was reported to have won some 60% of the vote. But the early tally was concentrated in the Western department, which includes the heavily pro-Aristide capital's two million inhabitants. Once votes were counted in the rest of Haiti -- particularly outside big cities where the Aristide tyranny is not so fondly remembered -- the Preval lead diminished.

The numbers also reflect the fact that some 60% to 65% of eligible Haitians voted this time around. In the last presidential election, in 2000, when Aristide claimed a landslide victory, the climate of fear his gangs had created was so intense that turnout was just 15%. It is also worth noting that, according to an OAS official, neither the Lavalas Party nor Mr. Preval's Lespwa (Hope) Party seem to have done particularly well in the parliamentary elections. If this is true, it means that voters are expressing an interest in exploring alternatives to the politics of Mr. Preval and the Aristide legacy.


If Mr. Preval is prepared to compromise it will be all to the good to have him as a figurehead for the mob working with a reformist legislature. But, it's Haiti....

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2006 8:06 AM
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