Party called key to vote
It doesn't have an official candidate in Haiti's presidential election, but the Lavalas Party is still expected to play a decisive role. Right now, it is split among backing two independent candidates.
BY REED LINDSAY
Special to the Miami Herald
18 October 2005
PORT-AU-PRINCE - Some 20 months after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his Lavalas Family party may be the decisive factor in the upcoming presidential election even though it doesn't have an official candidate, analysts say.
No publicly available polls have been conducted in Haiti, but Lavalas is believed to still dominate the political landscape because of its identification with the vast majority of Haitians who are poor.
''The masses in this country are still Lavalas,'' said Marc
us Garcia, a veteran journalist who runs Radio Melodie and the weekly newspaper Haiti en Marche ``With Aristide gone, everybody wants a piece of the cake, a piece of Lavalas.''
Lavalas registered no candidate of its own for the elections, set for Nov. 20 but almost certain to be postponed at least until December. And the party is now split between those backing two officially independent candidates, former Prime Minister Marc Bazin and former President René Preval.
''Bazin has the support of the Lavalas bureaucrats, but Preval has the support of the grass roots,'' Garcia said.
In 1990, Bazin, considered the darling of Washington, faced off against Aristide in Haiti's first democratic elections. Aristide trounced him, but less than eight months later he was ousted in a military coup. From 1992 to 1993, Bazin served as prime minister under the military regime, and later served as planning minister after Aristide was re-elected in 2000.
SEEKS ARISTIDE RETURN
Bazin, now r
unning on the ticket of his own Movement for the Establishment of Democracy in Haiti (MIDH) party, is appealing to Aristide supporters. He is calling for an end to what he sees as persecution of Lavalas partisans by the current U.S.-backed interim government. He has promised to free prisoners that he alleges are detained for political motives and to bring back Aristide, now living in exile in South Africa.
''The constitution is clear,'' said Bazin, who describes himself as a social democrat. ``It does not allow Haitians to be in exile, and we will start with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is the one the people love the most.''
The Bush administration is adamantly opposed to the return of Aristide, accused by U.S. officials of tolerating drug trafficking, corruption and rights abuses.
Bazin has received the backing of prominent Lavalas politicians, such as former Sens. Gerard Gilles and Yvon Feuille and The Rev. Yvon Massac, considered a confidant of Aristide. As his campaign kicked off
last Sunday, Bazin packed the former president's Aristide Foundation for Democracy with hundreds of party members.
But it is not clear whether Aristide, who has been silent so far from his exile, supports Bazin. Nor is it clear how much influence Aristide still wields over his party.
For his part, Preval remains something of an enigma. He has not spoken to the media or made any public appearance for years, and has remained in seclusion since registering his candidacy. During his 1996-2001 presidency, Preval was characterized by his detractors as being a puppet of Aristide, but he was also praised for being an honest and efficient administrator who spurned the wrangling and strong-armed methods typical of Haitian politics.
But Preval seems to be popular among Haiti's majority poor. Last week, more than 1,000 residents of the desperately poor slum of Cité Soleil marched past cinder block homes and fetid canals under a scorching sun to back Preval.
al is sensitive to people in the poor neighborhoods,'' said marcher Emanuel Joseph, 24, who has been unemployed since being fired from the state-owned telephone company after Aristide's ouster. ``He did a good thing in the country already. So now the people will choose him the second time.''
THE POPULAR VOTE
Ultimately, the election will be decided not by party leaders or even grass-roots militants, but by the millions of Haitian peasants and slum dwellers who in the past identified with Lavalas as a popular movement, according to Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia.
''Nobody can win this election without getting the Lavalas vote, or what was the Lavalas vote,'' Fatton said. ``Lavalas is really a movement. It's essentially the popular vote, the lower middle class and poor people. But it's still hard to tell just where that large portion of the population finds itself.''
Forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group - solidarity with
the Haitian people's struggle for human rights, participatory democracy and equitable development - since 1992.
Web site: www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org - news, views, features and links
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