PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- Haitian President Rene Preval, whose
decision to rule without parliament sparked a run of street violence last
month, failed to meet his own deadline to name a new election council
Hours after Preval told his nation that he needed more time, United Nations
Security Council members on Wednesday urged the Caribbean nation's
squabbling political leaders to overcome their differences and pave the way
for early elections by setting up a credible electoral council.
In January, following months of stalemate in negotiations with the
opposition-dominated parliament, Preval sent most lawmakers home,
announcing that their terms had expired along with the terms of most mayors
across impoverished Haiti.
He promised then to name by Feb. 2 a board that would prepare for a new
round of elections.
But in a televised speech late on Tuesday after a meeting with opposition
leaders, Preval told the nation he needed more time to create a credible
body to organise the next vote.
"The food is not yet cooked," Preval said, speaking in Creole during the
address. "Rather than give food that is only warm, we prefer to take a little
more time to sit and talk in order to create a good CEP."
The CEP (Provisional Electoral Council) is a nine-member council required
by Haiti's constitution to organise and control elections.
The hemisphere's poorest nation and a fragile democracy ruled for decades
by dictators, Haiti last held an election in April 1997. Only 5 percent of
eligible voters participated in the vote for municipal and legislative offices and
allegations of vote fraud prevented the winners from taking their seats.
That vote helped spur the resignation of then-Prime Minister Rosny Smarth
in June 1997.
Since then, parliament had rejected Preval's first three nominees for prime
minister, creating a political crisis that blocked most government
programmes and held up millions of dollars in badly needed international aid.
The crisis came to a head with Preval's Jan. 11 speech sending the
legislators home and installing his latest nominee, Jacques Edouard Alexis, as
prime minister without parliament's approval.
The speech was followed by demonstrations by his supporters and those of
his opponents, who charged him with attempting to establish himself as
Haiti's dictator. Hours after the speech, assailants staged a daylight attack on
Preval's sister's car, killing her chauffeur and leaving her seriously wounded.
Preval denied on Tuesday night that he was seizing power.
"We are not going back to dictatorship ... It is democracy we are building,"
Alexis had promised last month that he would name his new Cabinet
ministers on Feb. 2, the same day Preval was expected to announce the
creation of an electoral council. But he also failed to meet that deadline.
Preval said on Tuesday he considered elections the only way to bring Haiti
out of the crisis that has polarised the country. He said he would continue
negotiations with opposition groups to create a nonpartisan and trustworthy
Preval also said he would ask for international and national election
observers, but did not say when he thought elections might be held.
After closed-door consultations in New York that included a briefing by
U.N. secretariat on Haiti, U.N. Security Council President Michel Duval
said members expressed concern about the electoral and political impasse
and were "prepared to support a credible, fair and transparent electoral
process leading to early legislative and local elections."
The council also praised "the professionalism of the Haitian National Police
in keeping civil order in this period of political tension."
Haiti has been ruled by dictators during most of its history, including
coup leaders ousted by the United States in 1994 after three years in power.
The 1994 occupation by a U.S.-led multinational force restored Haiti's first
freely elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Preval, an Aristide protege, succeeded the former populist priest as
president in 1996.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.