- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2000

With one opposition candidate bludgeoned to death, two other people killed in a gunfight, and widespread allegations of fraud, Haiti's legislative and local elections hardly seem a rousing success. But given the country's lack of democratic tradition and bloody history, the mere holding of elections has been hailed a relative triumph and the single-digit death toll viewed with relief. This optimism regarding a violent and allegedly fraud-ridden election is an indication of how chaotic Haiti remains today four years after U.S. troops hoping to restore democratic rule pulled out of the country.

Recent polls indicate that nearly half of all Haitians believe life is worse today than before U.S.-led troops restored the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to power. The average yearly income is below $400 in Haiti, and the judicial sector continues to be overwhelmed and corrupt. Meanwhile, Haiti is becoming a haven for narco-traffickers.

Despite the poverty, despotism and terror, Haitians demonstrated a brave commitment to democracy by voting. The potential for violence was high. Leading up to the election, 15 people, most critics of the ruling Lavalas Party, were killed. Still, an estimated 60 percent of Haiti's eligible population came out to vote.

Unfortunately, this hope for a democratic future will be undermined if election fraud goes unchecked. Outside the capital's main voting station, huge amounts of valid ballots from the elections were strewn on the street. Witnesses reportedly said the ballots were tossed from a truck Monday morning. In addition, six opposition parties claimed that armed men stole ballot boxes and accused the ruling Lavalas Party of stuffing ballot boxes and blocking their supporters' access to polling stations.

But imperfect elections were better than no vote at all and they didn't come easy. President Rene Preval agreed to hold the elections only after the United States and the rest of the international community exerted considerable pressure. More than $500 million in international aid earmarked for Haiti was frozen, conditional on these elections.

Since he has been ruling by decree since January 1999, Mr. Preval had not been eager to hold elections. He disbanded the legislature in 1997, after bickering with the majority party in parliament regarding the results of a flawed election.

Although it is painful to deny aid to a country so in need, Haiti should implement a variety of reforms before the entire $500 million is released. Apart from holding elections, the Preval administration must also stop sanctioning violence perpetrated on its behalf. In addition, Haiti is in sore need of judicial and economic reform and greater transparency in government.

The killing of an opposition candidate and violence towards opposition supporters is unacceptable. In doling out aid, the international community must insist on a reasonable standard of stability and order for Haiti. Until then, the Haitian people will suffer the consequences.

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