Mob Rule Triumphs in Haitian Election, A Disaster for Governing

      The first round of the Haitian Presidential election went off without a hitch.  A large turnout, 2.2 million out of 3.5 eligible, almost 63%, was slightly lower than the United States presidential election last in 2004.

   In the first round, Rene Preval received just over 48% of the vote.  The other 30 candidates received the remainder, with another former president receiving about 11%.  Under the Haitian election law, a candidate needed to receive over 50% of the votes cast in the election in order to avoid a run-off.

   Preval and his supporters, first threatened to "burn the country down" if he did not win the election.  Rather than participate in a second round of the election, Preval claimed that the election was being stolen from him and demanded that he be declared the winner without a second round.

   The reasons cited by Preval and his supporters to justify their claims of fraud were 85,000 blank ballots (about 4%) and 125, 000 disqualified ballots.  Preval's supporters claimed that the 85,000 blanks were proof of official misconduct to deprive him of a first ballot victory because why would people stand in line for hours just to cast a blank ballot.  Is a 4% blank rate unreasonable?

   In the 1960 presidential election in the United States 6% of the presidential ballots were blank in Chicago.  In one Florida County in 2000, 12% of the people did not cast ballots for president.  It is always true that the election gets more votes than any candidate in the election.  Between 1% and 2% is a normal undervote in presidential races.  The blank ballots in Haiti were 4%, high, but not out of the ball park.

   One reason the Haiti blank count might have been higher is that many people make up their minds at the last minute.  They enter the voting booth, and at the last minute can't decide.  Also, people sometimes check all the candidates, or none, to show they think they are all good, or all bad, or just that they can't make a choice.

   Given the history of violence and intimidation in Haitian elections, it is not hard to imagine the voter, pressured into going to the polls to vote for someone he or she does not like,  casting a blank ballot once in the solitude of the voting booth.

   Nevertheless, Preval urged his supporters to take to the streets to demand that he be named president after the first round.

A Disaster for Governing

   The Haitian election proves that democracy is not just about electing people.  It is also about formulating a mandate so whoever is elected can govern.  By short circuiting the second round of voting, Preval denied the voters a change to chart the direction of government policy.

   Firstly, in a 30 person race, it is logical that the voters would want to postpone a final decision to a second round.  Also, with 30 candidates, it is hard to see how anyone could get more than 50% on the first round.

   During the run-off, with only two candidates, both former prime ministers, the voters would have had a chance to seriously consider policy alternatives for the new government.  With the number of candidates reduced to 2, governmental issues could and would have been discussed, with alternatives presented to the voters.

   There is little doubt that the candidate, Rene Preval, who received over 48% of the vote in the first round, would have emerged victorious in the second.  But the run-off would have been important as a device to tell him the direction and priorities of his new administration.  That the second round never happened is a disaster for Haiti.  It shows that Preval is a thug and a dictator.  Of course, who can blame him when Bush won the 2000 election similarly by sending mobs to boards of elections to interfere with the vote count and to prevent it. 

   So, it's easy to see why Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.  Democracy is not just a device for selecting leaders, it is also a process for determining policy priorities.  Without the latter part, the leaders can only govern by force and intimidation, just the way the election was won in the first place.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf