Democratic Vote Succeeds in Haiti
Leftist priest elected president must win confidence of Army and grapple with class disparities
PRESIDENT-ELECT Jean-Bertrand Aristide's landslide victory in Haiti's Dec. 16 elections is more than a personal achievement. It is the first time in Haiti's 186 years as an independent country that democratic elections have been held. For the Haitian people, the accomplishment is a clear expression of their desire for change, political observers say.
``The people showed their determination and opened a new page in Haitian history,'' said Israel Diallo, a spokesman for United Nations observers.
Voters outlasted technical difficulties that kept many of them waiting in the hot sun for up to eight hours. They also overcame fear of violence, that was intensified by the Dec. 5 attack against Fr. Aristide's supporters, which killed seven. And they tackled a complex five-part ballot to chose a president, senators, deputies, and community leaders.
The Haitian Army also cooperated. This year's peaceful vote contrasted sharply with the Nov. 29, 1987, election-day massacre, in which 34 voters were killed at polls by thugs as soldiers watched. This year ``the Army really did their job,'' Mr. Diallo said.
The change this year was crucial with the Army's presence encouraging a strong turnout and providing needed protection from forces that still threaten democratic change, political analysts and others say.
Numerous international observers, including the United Nations, United States diplomatic representatives, and former US President Carter agreed that Aristide had indeed won the election. With 1 percent of the vote tallied by early Dec. 18, Aristide was leading with 70.6 percent of the vote. An estimated 2 million people voted, or about 70 percent of registered voters.
At press time, 27,827 ballots had been counted from four provinces. Of those votes, Aristide took 19,181, former World Bank economist Marc Bazin, the other leading candidate, received 3,410 votes, or 12 percent. The rest of the votes were divided up between the nine other candidates.
One woman killed
Victory celebrations the day after the election were marred by the shooting death of a pregnant woman, killed by men in military uniforms who apparently were trying to control a crowd dancing in front of the St. Jean Bosco Roman Catholic Church where Aristide once preached.
The shooting prompted some concern that elements within the Army, along with other gang leaders who have influence in the Army, may not sit idly by while Aristide takes office.
``This is the first time a president will take power that hasn't been given to him by the Army,'' says Herold Jean-Fran,cois, a political analyst. ``How will Aristide get their confidence, this same Army that has done so much during the Duvalier dictatorship?''
The Army is not Aristide's only concern. Although he has the overwhelming support of poor Haitians, he has also made promises to other sectors that are in part responsible for Haiti's enormous economic class difference.
Aristide adopts moderate tone
``There are the public administrations, the commercial sector, and the conservative church hierarchy that Aristide has to balance,'' Mr. Herold adds. ``Aristide has been an outspoken critic of the United State foreign policy in Haiti for years. How will they resolve their differences?''
Since Aristide began campaigning, however, he has moderated his tone. He has made overtures for dialogue with the US government, including talks with the US Ambassador Alvin Adams and representatives of the Bush administration.
``We congratulated him on his victory and told him the US fully supports the democratic process in Haiti,'' said Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Bernard Aronson.
According to the 1987 Constitution, the prime minister is chosen from the majority party. Mr. Bazin, the candidate for the National Alliance for Progress and Democracy, a three-party coalition, is expected to win that race.
``It's still too early to know'' which way Bazin will go, says analyst Gary Victor. ``Anything can happen before Aristide takes office. He's going to need a lot of support from a lot of sectors.''
Louis Dejois, unofficially the third runner-up, has acknowledged Aristide as Haiti's next president. He has promised his support. But Sylvio Claude, who enjoyed popularity in the 1987 election, but not in this election, has protested the partial results.
``What's most important, is that this is a victory of the poor and those who have died for the cause,'' said Venel Remarais, a member of the state council, Haiti's legislative body. ``The country's problems won't be solved overnight. But the solutions will start with the participation of everyone, not just those whose interests have been protected by a 35-year system of corruption.''