The Miami Herald
March 8, 1999
Haiti clears the way for new elections

             By DON BOHNING
             Herald Staff Writer

             PORT-AU-PRINCE -- President Rene Preval's government and six political
             parties signed an agreement Sunday aimed at resolving a costly and contentious
             political standoff that has left Haiti without a functioning government for 20 months.
             The agreement paves the way for new parliamentary elections, probably in

             Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis had said in an interview that an agreement
             was 95 percent in place by Feb. 28, but an announcement was delayed by the
             assassination a day later of Jean-Yvon Toussaint, a senator of the opposition
             Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL). The OPL did not sign the

             The OPL is one of seven parties -- known as the Concertation Group -- that had
             resumed negotiations with President Preval on Feb. 27. After Toussaint's
             assassination, the OPL said it would not attend further discussions until his killing
             was solved.

             Implementation of the agreement could be as tedious as reaching the agreement
             itself, however, particularly without the OPL on board. Four of the remaining eight
             senators belong to the OPL, which had a plurality in the previous Parliament.

             Formation of new government

             Evans Paul, former Port-au-Prince mayor and leader of one of the six parties
             signing the agreement, said the pact will ``permit the formation of a new
             government and a provisional electoral council.''

             The agreement covers three main areas:

               Formulation of a new provisional electoral council.

               Composition of the Alexis government.

               Determination by Preval, together with the presidents of the Senate and
             Supreme Court, of how the eight remaining incumbent senators can participate in
             governmental oversight responsibilities in the absence of a Parliament.

             The electoral council's priority will be to organize new parliamentary elections later
             this year, but it will also have to resolve the disputed April 1997 Senate elections
             that led to the crisis and the stand-off between Parliament and Preval.

             The election dispute prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth in
             June 1997. Since then, Preval has been unable to get a new prime minister
             approved by the OPL-dominated Parliament.

             Alexis was finally approved in December, but his program and Cabinet were not.

             International pressure

             The situation deteriorated further on Jan. 11, when Preval declared Parliament's
             term to be at an end under the law by which it was elected. Parliament had
             contended it had several more months to serve under the constitution.

             Diplomats in Haiti say the settlement was fashioned by Haitians, but the country
             had come under intense pressure from the international community, as well as
             Haiti's private sector, to resolve the crisis. The pressure included a visit by former
             Costa Rican President Oscar Arias last weekend.

             ``The international community continues to be gravely concerned about the crisis in
             Haiti,'' United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said in his most recent
             mandated quarterly report to the Security Council, dated Feb. 19.

             ``There is increasing polarization in the country, and new risks to constitutional
             government and the consolidation of democracy,'' Annan warned. ``The absence
             of a functioning Parliament has created a serious institutional vacuum.''

             He called for ``meaningful negotiations'' for a settlement and said it could be done
             only through ``dialogue and compromise.''


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