$1.50
August, 2000

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory


Haiti's Aristide Had the Votes to Win, Yet Cheated and So Drained His Win of Legitimacy

By James R. Morrell(1)


On May 21, 2000 the majority of the Haitian electorate went to the polls in an impressive, dignified manner and delivered former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party a massive popular mandate. Election day was virtually violence-free and OAS observers reported few irregularities. At last, after the years of political confusion, one party would have the legislature and presidency and the governmental gridlock would be over.

It was possible to imagine Haiti emerging with a fully legitimate government able at last to collect hundreds of millions of aid reserved for it by the World Bank and some twenty bilateral aid donors.

But alas, it was not to be. Not content with merely winning, Aristide had his supporters on the electoral commission rig the count in order to deliver first-round victories to all nineteen senatorial candidates, of whom eighteen belonged to his Lavalas Family party. They did this by stopping the counting of senatorial votes at the first four top contenders, thereby contracting the field by a quarter to a third and bumping up the percentages of the front-runners so they could claim an outright majority. By cutting off the count there they unapologetically discarded some 1.1 to 1.2 million votes cast for opposition candidates -- between 25 to 35 percent of the total.

On May 31 the OAS electoral mission pointed out the fraudulent procedure and called on the electoral commission to count all the votes before proceeding to the second round.

The commission president, Léon Manus, at first resisted. He sent a letter back denouncing the OAS mission for interfering. But then he changed his mind and did a recount. His recount found that only five, not sixteen, of the Lavalas senatorial candidates had won on the first round. The rest would have to go to a runoff election. When Manus made ready to announce these findings, he was summoned to the presidential palace by President René Préval. There both Préval in person and former president Aristide, by telephone, made forceful statements which Manus took as threats to his life. Aided by the United States and other foreign embassies, Manus escaped to the Dominican Republic and the United States.

The OAS mission, finding the first-round results to be biased, refused to observe the imposed second round. The United States, European Union, United Nations, and Caricom all condemned the procedure. On July 13, 2000 the Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for an aid cutoff until Haiti held free and fair elections.

The above has been widely reported. In this report, to demystify the counting question, we reproduce a senatorial return exactly as issued by the CEP in June using the bogus percentage calculation. This return is from the Département du Nord'est. It shows there were 132,613 votes cast for the two senatorial positions. The constitution and electoral law say you win outright on the first round if you get 50 percent plus one of the votes cast. Since two senatorial positions were up and people could vote for each senator, divide the 132,613 senatorial votes in half and you get 66,307 votes cast per senator. The constitutional 50 percent plus one of this is 33,154 -- that's how much you need to win on the first round. Referring to the chart, both Lavalas Family candidates are declared winners on the first round even though they got 32,969 and 30,736 votes respectively.

Chart Exactly As Issued by CEP


RESULTATS DES ELECTIONS DU 21 MAI 2000
 

SENATEURS NORD'EST

Departement Prenom Nom Parti Total %
NORD'EST AMOS ANDRE MOCHRENA 3,201
ABRAHAM BONHOMME MOCHRENA 3,427
JOSE JOSEPH DANIEL IND 11,305 24.00%
JUDNEL JEAN Espace 6,459
PHILOME FIRMIN JEAN-LOUIS OPL 11,082
ARMAND JOACHIM OPL 15,966 35.00%
1er JEAN RODOLPHE JOAZILE Fanmi Lavalas 32,969 72,47%
ARGAIS JOSEPH IND 5,547
LUNICE MATHIEU MPSN 1,456
GERARD PIERRE Espace 6,703
2eme LUCIEN DELINX PIERRE-LOUIS Fanmi Lavalas 30,736 67,56%
EMMANUEL TINORD Tet Ansanm 3,762
132,613

To get their candidates over the top, the manipulators added up the votes received by the top four finishers (90,976), divided that by half to get 45,488, and divided the votes received by the two Lavalas contenders (32,969 and 30,736) by that 45,488 to come up with 72.47 and 67.56 winning percentages respectively.

The above assumes everyone voted twice since there were two senators. A certain number of voters, one out of five perhaps, only voted for one senator. Then divide the total 132,613 senatorial votes by 1.7 and you get 78,008 divided by two equals 39,004 -- an even higher threshold for winning on the first round.

The above spreadsheet is for only one department; an examination of the other departments confirms exactly the same procedure was used.

On June 14, 2000 electoral commission workers ran the percentages in the manner the law requires, i.e., counting all the votes, and found that in the above department no one won on the first round; in the country overall, nine won on the first round. If the number of voters who only voted for one senator is factored in, the number winning on the first round diminishes further toward the five reported by election commissioner Manus. The Center for International Policy has posted the returns issued by these election workers on its website, www.ciponline.org/what's new.htm

Both sets of returns show that the CEP all along had the full returns available from which to do a full count. The returns are on a spreadsheet and the total votes are summed, so it is not a question of any extra work to count all the votes. The decision to cut off at the first four was purely political -- imposed by the executive branch, presumably through the counting office (directorate of operations) headed by Luciano Pharaon, although the personalities involved will no doubt dispute this.

For a while into June the counting office, sometimes alone and sometimes with some commissioners' signatures, issued returns based on the top-four method, but by June 22 when it came time for the president of the CEP, Manus, to sign off on the definitive returns, he had convinced himself that the method was wrong and refused to do so; rather he was preparing to issue the right figures. Then President Préval and ex-president Aristide issued their threats and Manus fled.

In the races for the lower chamber, there was only one deputy being chosen per district and so no way to do a top-finisher cutoff as was done for senators. Even the manipulators found no way to avoid counting all the votes there. In the deputy races, only about one-third won on the first round -- about the same as would have won in the senate if the votes had been fairly counted.

Why did Aristide steal so flagrantly when he had the votes to win? This report explores three lines of explanation. First, in the interest of balance, it briefly revisits the Aristide partisans' denial of fraud. Then it explores the pragmatic reasons that might have driven Aristide to cheat to make his win absolutely sure. But third, since he clearly had the votes to win anyway, it it considers cultural and psychological explanations.

What of the fallout? Is the situation is reversible or must Haiti and the world submit to a fait accompli? And finally, what does it all means for the fate of Haiti's long-suffering poor? These question are briefly considered at the end of this essay.


I. Why cheat when you don't have to?

There were numerous fraudulent elections in the century just ending, but the perpetrator of this one was restored by twenty-two thousand American troops under United Nations aegis to instill democracy. The gratuitous cheating in this election seems almost calculated to inflame international opinion and assure Haiti's isolation.

There is no doubt that the sheer scale of support for the Lavalas Family party virtually guaranteed Aristide's reelection and a healthy majority in parliament. Most of the Lavalas Family candidates who were not winning outright in the first round were front-runners, poised to win the runoff. The fact is that the murky results mean that the government will lack legitimacy in the eyes of Haitians and foreigners alike.

Observers have advanced three main explanations for this seemingly irrational behavior

A. Denial

The de-facto Haitian government and its defenders abroad deny that any fraud took place. They contend that this was the same procedure as used in 1990, without objection by election observers. They maintain that it only discounted marginal candidates who got a small number of votes.

However, the International Foundation for Election Systems and commissioners from the 1990 electoral commission deny that any such short-counting was done in that election and most candidates had to go to the second round. The OAS also contends that the number of votes so dropped in 2000 was anything but small, rather it was 1.2 million -- which if so would be roughly a quarter to a third of all the votes cast in senatorial races.

U.S. assistant secretary of state Peter Romero and U.S. special envoy for Haiti Donald Steinberg said that the State Department had carefully researched whether a similar method was used in Haiti's 1990, 1995, and 1997 elections and concluded that it had not; so clearly not, Ambassador Steinberg said, that it was "not even debatable." In any event, the 1999 electoral law superseded earlier law and precedents.

The only rationale for not counting all the ballots in the first round in some race in 1990 might have been the following: if one cannot get a majority out of the top four or six contenders, then why bother to count the rest? In 2000 the purpose of not counting all the ballots was not to avoid unnecessary labor that makes no difference in who qualifies for the second round, but to change the results from what would have happened in the second round.

Accordingly, on July 7 the OAS electoral-observation mission announced that it had determined that according to the provisions of Haiti's own electoral legislation, the final results for the Senate elections as proclaimed by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) are incorrect, and the mission cannot consider them either accurate or fair. As a result, the mission announces that it will not observe the second round of the electoral process scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 9.

B. Pragmatism

The pragmatic school notes that Aristide needs a totally pliant parliament in order to assure his reelection and change the constitutional limit on presidential terms to become president-for-life, the avowed aim of his supporters. While his Lavalas Family party might have won a third of the first-round legislative races outright, a second round would confer name recognition and enforced unity on the opposition candidate, because this round is confined to the top two vote-getters. In the first round over thirty opposition parties contended, presenting Haitian voters with a confused mass. In the second round, the Lavalas Family candidate would have been opposed by only one candidate who might unite the opposition and connect with the voters. Such a strengthening of the opposition in the runoff has been observed in many countries using two-round electoral systems. Under these circumstances, the pragmatic school holds, Haitian voters in the second round might have denied Aristide's party a clear majority.

Here, the pragmatic school notes the preeminent powers given to parliament in the 1987 constitution (its framers were intent on preventing another president a vie). Before being qualified to take office, every government official in Haiti must pass a financial audit which parliament must approve. If parliament failed to approve the audit of Aristide's first term, he could be disqualified for the presidency.

It would be even more difficult to gain the two-thirds parliamentary approval, without a crushing Lavalas Family majority, of the constitutional changes needed to allow Aristide to remain in the presidency after 2006. Thus the pragmatic school contends that merely the win and healthy majority delivered by the voters in the year 2000 election was not enough, given Aristide's untrammeled ambitions.

C. Cultural and psychological dimensions

This school was best summed up by a Port-au-Prince taxi driver: "Lavalas would have won, even if it had played fair. But it wanted to wipe out the opposition."

As Aristide himself said in his December 1998 speech announcing for reelection, the next government would be 100 percent Lavalas, with no room for "opportunists." The free ride was over. "We want to tell everyone here, we love our country, this is for Mother Haiti . . . Everyone who has been fighting against Lavalas won't get a free ride anymore.

"From now on, even if you were a candidate, even if you weren't a candidate, even if you are going to be a candidate, no problem, look me in the eyes in 2001 . . . Lavalas won't give free rides again."

Lavalas would establish peace, "like it or not."

Some of the psychology at work here was discussed by Haitians on an Internet chat line in 1998. One Haitian observed,

"The majority of certified, diplomified professionals like to either pat each other on the back or to tear each other to pieces." Another said, "Did you know that even in 1998, it is nearly impossible to have any two Haitian professionals (whatever the field) who disagree on a particular subject defend their stand side by side, with real arguments, on either pre-recorded or live radio or TV?"

This Haitian recalled that while in Haiti recently he had taken part in call-in radio shows. "I got tired of hearing one-sided praise or one-sided character assassination." He proposed real debates at which both sides would be represented. Several radio hosts told him that they had given up on that idea years ago.

"The guy who feels on top at any particular moment simply refuses to sit down with anyone who doesn't see things his way."

In 1999 University of Quebec sociologist Franklin Midy wove the political, psychological and cultural strands together in his analysis of the struggle between the two factions of the Lavalas camp, "one which may be called legitimist-charismatic and the other constitutionalist-legal.

The legitimist faction presents itself as a true representative of the Haitian people. It is centered around the charismatic figure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who claims to embody the true aspirations of the Haitian masses and to be their true legitimate representative. It is in this spirit that he was opposed to the creation of a political party, necessarily partisan, because as he explained, one should not divide the great family of Lavalas. But later when he realized that the enlarged family was not as united as expected, that some of the children of the family did not follow in the path of its father--the "errant children"--he then tried to reunite the "legitimate children" in an authentically Lavalas party, where there would be no place for the "free riders." This is the Fanmi Lavalas party.

Opposing the legitimist-charismatic faction is the constitutionalist-legal faction which has a majority in the two chambers of the legislature and is in the position of legally sharing state power. It is grouped today under the banner of the Organisation du peuple en lutte (OPL, organization of the people in struggle), formerly the Organisation politique Lavalas, part of the larger family. The actual representatives of OPL were elected as part of the ménage before this organization became the Lavalas Family party under the direction of President Aristide.

There is an apparently unbridgeable conflict between these two political factions. A conflict that concerns the legitimacy of their power. A conflict of political legitimacies. The two factions are warring over legitimacy: the Fanmi Lavalas party claims a total charismatic legitimacy which excludes the claim of OPL to any legitimacy. It considers OPL a clique of "free riders." For its part, OPL cites its majority in the two chambers as the basis of its constitutional legitimacy and claim for a share of power. Between the two opposing representations of political legitimacy the conflict seems unbridgeable. The constitutionalist-legal faction which has a majority in the chambers demands a share of power while the legitimist-charismatic faction which claims to embody the true aspirations of the masses behaves as if it should control all the power.(2)

These various statements by Haitians elucidate the political culture of the power grab. Two American diplomats, after bitter experience with the Haitian politicians, were more blunt. Lawrence Pezzullo, an experienced diplomat who was the U.S. negotiator at Governors Island, said, "I've never seen people like the Haitians who can belly up to the table and belly back down again." Robert Gelbard was accused of racism when he said Haitians didn't have compromise in their genes.

So to the question, "Why did Aristide cheat when he didn't have to?" there may be no clear answer. He may have needed to in order to make absolutely sure, and he may have wanted to humiliate his opponents. Neither explanation is mutually exclusive.



II. Is the situation reversible?

What should U.S. policy be, and that of the international community? And what should be the attitude of Haiti's nongovernmental well-wishers who were so important in creating the climate of opinion that enabled Aristide's return in 1994?

A. Absence of leverage

An aid cutback, such as the United States and Haiti's other major benefactors have declared, is unlikely to alter the government's course. Since the disputed 1997 election and the 1999 dissolution of parliament much aid has already been held back. Meanwhile the Haitian politicians have learned how to live on the cash flow from long-distance telephone calls, remittances from the weary Diaspora, gifts from Taiwan and subsidies from Colombian drug lords. For them, just as for their predecessors, this familiar petty flow occludes the vast potential that could be Haiti's.(3)

The cost to the poor is invisible, but huge. For while Western alms can bypass the government using nongovernmental organizations, as was done for decades under the Duvaliers, a permanent solution to the poverty can only be found through a government that uses abundant Western aid to rebuild the infrastructure and create the security and rule of law that the economy must have to flourish. There is no way to punish the Haitian government without ultimately punishing the people as well.

If the smooth, obvious scenario of a total Lavalas takeover continues, and a unified government rules Haiti under another president a vie, the United States whether under Democratic or Republican administration will soon enough acquiesce, easily prizing the stability over the democratic principle. Upholding that principle will fall to the battered Haitian opposition and the scattering of international human-rights groups that were the original opposition to the Duvaliers and subsequent military regimes.

Many Haitians, too, if not Lavalas supporters, would be glad to see an end to the political turmoil and a cohesive government, even if undemocratically conceived. No less a figure than Leslie Voltaire, a technocrat and one of the original founders of the Lavalas Family party, has contended that this party intends to nominate highly-qualified professionals to the key ministries to lift Haiti out of its poverty. If so, foreign support, however grudging at first, will return.

B. Unpredictability of present situation

On the other hand, a regime that can so badly mishandle even an election that it wins may not remain stable. The opposition frequently refers to the "barons of Tabarre." Among them are eager senatorial candidates, some of them former army men linked to drug traffickers, who are reputed to have their own armed coteries. Once they had "won" under the false count they would never consent to a second round. The exact relations between them and Aristide remain murky. His past poor record for maintaining allegiances bodes ill for the stability of any relationship of trust. Baronial politics and repression is the inevitable accompaniment of personalistic rule and such disunity was the bane of Latin American politics until well into the twentieth century.

Instability in Haiti, however, because of its location, becomes a far more sensitive issue for the United States than even genocide in Africa. It is hard to guess the issue that might flare up out of control--flow of drugs or refugees, disease, or a humanitarian disaster. The demographic pressures alone, if accompanied by a stagnant economy, could lead to a breakdown in public order.(4)

C. What should policy be now?

It can be argued that the mistake of American policy after the intervention, when the United States still had major leverage, was to neglect (relatively) the other institutions of constitutionality while restoring the presidency whole. In the present situation, where the lack of foreign leverage is painfully clear and a one-party state is taking form, a far-sharper emphasis on civic society and the remaining democratic space may be the only democratic route left, the only alternative to acquiescing in the fait accompli. But this is a drastic, potentially divisive course to take, and one that could expose the Haitian opposition to repression that outsiders would be virtually powerless to prevent.

For the time being, the Republican opposition in Congress will prevent a too-hasty administration embrace of a fraudulent regime in Haiti. But while the Republicans emerge paradoxically as the champions of democracy, is not their real motivation to portray Haiti as a failure of Clinton policy? If so, that neglects the fact that the functional policy that emerged since 1994 was equally theirs, and so is the failure.

 

III. Implications for Haiti's poor

The failure of Haiti to constitute legitimate governance will exact its greatest cost on the poor. As noted, if the government halfway consolidates itself and the international community slowly, as memories of the electoral fraud fade, restores minimal aid, some progress in building infrastructure and security may resume. If the government continues to deteriorate, virtually no infrastructure aid will be delivered and alms through nongovernmental organizations will become the main source of aid; even they may be choked off if the government makes good its threat to tax and regulate these organizations.

Either way, the abundant, enthusiastic, ambitious program that Haiti's well-wishers prepared in 1994 and 1995 ($3 billion, or twice Haiti's yearly GDP) is irretrievably gone, a victim of Haiti's impervious politics.(5) As Enrique Iglesias, head of the Inter-American Development Bank told a group of Haiti supporters in 1994, "We're going to break the rules for Haiti." There was going to be enough money to fund social programs all over Haiti and rebuild the entire infrastructure. The press has used a figure of $500 million as the amount Haiti has lost or has had suspended because of its governmental gridlock. The true figure is many times higher, higher indeed than $3 billion; it cannot be calculated, only inferred from the intentions of the international financial institutions and twenty bilateral donors in 1994-95. For in those years it was as though a cork had been pulled from a bottle. A country they had been unable to aid for decades was suddenly available.

Without a minimally-effective government for aid donors to work through, the poor can only be assuaged, not helped. Starvation may be prevented by food handouts, but agriculture cannot be promoted. Mass epidemics of disease may be contained, but the epidemic of unemployment continues.

The quest for effective, transparent, and democratic governance in Haiti should continue above all in behalf of the poor.

 

Appendix

The OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti: Chief of Mission Report to the OAS Permanent Council July 13, 2000

Declaration of Léon Manus

1998 Aristide speech.


Footnotes

1. The author is grateful for insights contributed by Prof. Henry F. Carey, assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University. He was a member of the CIP electoral observation delegation in May, 2000. He is the author of "Electoral Observation and Democratization in Haiti" published in 1998 by the University of California.

2. Franklin Midy, "What's Blocking Haiti," 1999.

3. See a similar analysis in Haïti en Marche, 22 Juillet 2000.

4. Explored in Ernest H. Preeg, The Haitian Dilemma: A Case Study in Democgraphics, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Washington: The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1996).

5. See Hugh Byrne, James Morrell, and Rachel Neild, "Haiti and the Limits to Nation-Building,"Current History (March 1999), pp. 127-32.