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US lawmakers concerned over Haiti's forthcoming poll

By Mark Doyle
BBC International Development Correspondent

image captionNovember's elections come as Haitians still struggle to rebuild their country

Members of the US Congress have warned that post-earthquake Haiti is heading for unfair presidential and legislative elections next month because more than a dozen political parties have been barred from taking part.

In an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 45 US lawmakers said Haiti needed a strong, representative government in the wake of January's disaster which made a million and a half homeless and, according to the Haitian government, left more than 200,000 dead.

The letter said the decision of the electoral authorities, the Provisional Electoral Council, to exclude some of the most popular candidates from the 28 November poll, so potentially conferring decisions to a government perceived as illegitimate, was a "recipe for disaster".

The US lawmakers say the exclusion of candidates, including those from Fanmi Lavalas, which they describe as "Haiti's largest political party", risks causing popular unrest.

And they go as far as quoting former US President John Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

'Party splits'

Fanmi Lavalas leaders, some of whom are loyal to the exiled former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have been barred on technical grounds following a dispute between candidates.

image captionThe US lawmakers worry a flawed election will worsen Haiti's plight

The popular Haitian hip hop singer Wyclef Jean was excluded from running in the presidential poll because he was said not to meet eligibility requirements.

The lawmakers' letter to Mrs Clinton, issued last Thursday, says excluding candidates will undermine both the right of Haitians to vote and the resulting government's ability to govern.

The current Haitian government led by President Rene Preval has rejected allegations that it is excluding popular candidates for political reasons.

It said Fanmi Lavalas was split and some of its leaders unrepresentative of the party. And it said Wyclef Jean had spent too much of his time resident in the United States to be eligible for election.

In Haiti's fluid political landscape some prominent members of the current government claim allegiance to Fanmi Lavalas.

But many ordinary Haitian voters spontaneously say they support populists like Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Wyclef Jean, and they express deep scepticism about the current administration because it is not seen to have responded well to their needs after the earthquake.

The letter to Mrs Clinton said allowing the elections to proceed with the exclusions in place would "come back to haunt the international community" because the government that is elected will have to make difficult decisions about post-earthquake reconstruction and spend large amounts of aid money.

"Running transparently unfair, exclusive elections with the support of the international community, will leave many Haitians to conclude that they have no choice but to protest the elections and the consequent government through social disruption," the letter says.

Finally, the letter concludes that the US government should not provide any funding to elections that do not meet "basic democratic requirements".

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