The Miami Herald
May 27, 2000

Credibility of Haitian elections placed in doubt

30 opposition figures arrested, many of them candidates


 A crackdown on the opposition and a suspiciously high preliminary number of
 Senate seats projected for the Lavalas Family Party of former President
 Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised doubts Friday about the credibility of the crucial
 local and parliamentary elections held May 21.

 Until now, the elections had been widely considered fair, due to the large voter
 turnout and lack of violence, even if flawed for logistical reasons. By Friday,
 however, more than 30 opposition figures, many of them candidates, had been
 detained by police on a variety of charges, most related to illegal firearms.

 Others are said to have gone into hiding.


 ``The election was supposed to solve the political crisis and did exactly the
 contrary. It made it worse,'' said Jean Claude Bajeux, a former priest and cabinet
 minister under Aristide who now heads a human rights center.

 Among the first and most prominent of those arrested was Paul Denis, an
 opposition senator for the southern town of Les Cayes, who was running for

 In the previous Parliament, Denis had been one of the more outspoken critics of
 Aristide and the government of President Rene Preval.


 Government-owned National Television showed pictures of an Uzi submachine
 gun and another automatic weapon it said was seized in Denis' home. His wife
 said he had only a pistol, common for politicians and public figures in the existing
 climate of random violence.

 Even though Les Cayes is four hours by road from the capital, Denis was arrested
 by a unit of the Presidential Guard dispatched from Port-au-Prince.

 ``After the brutally fraudulent elections, the government is quite simply trying to
 silence the opposition,'' said Evans Paul, leader of an opposition coalition that has
 had several candidates and other officials arrested.

 Gerard Pierre Charles, another major opposition leader, called it an electoral coup
 d'etat and noted that ``after coup d'etats there is always a wave of repression.''

 ``The detentions, under a rather large mandate, are being done of people likely to
 cause problems,'' a foreign diplomat said.

 ``What all of this means is not clear, but it is seen by the opposition as an effort
 to further intimidate and by the authorities as aimed at controlling what is a
 potential source of violence,'' he added.

 Further fueling the tension was the release of information by an unnamed senior
 staffer of the Provisional Electoral Council, claiming that the Lavalas Family would
 win 15 of the 17 Senate seats on Sunday's ballot without a runoff. The staffer has
 been widely identified by foreign electoral officials as close to President Preval
 and Aristide's Lavalas Family party.


 Official results are expected to be announced by the middle of next week.

 Meanwhile, state-controlled National Television has broadcast nonstop since
 Monday comments from Lavalas candidates and partisans proclaiming total

 ``We seem to be in a situation where it is becoming increasingly difficult to
 determine what the state of play is,'' Orlando Marville, a Barbados diplomat who
 heads an electoral monitoring mission to Haiti for the Organization of American
 States, said in a telephone interview.

 ``It is a situation of bad losers and over-enthusiastic winners, neither of which is
 particularly good for the process.''

 Most puzzling to some observers is the fact that early indications from Sunday's
 elections were that the Lavalas Family was headed for a substantial victory.

 ``Somebody was comparing Aristide to [South African President] Mandela,''
 Bajeux said. ``He forgot that Mandela agreed to share the power, which they are
 refusing to do here. They [Lavalas] want 100 percent here.''