Free Dartmouth
3/09/2004 03:17:00 AM | Justin

Aristide's Electoral Corruption Charges Overblown?

I'm throwing this topic out tentatively, partly to see if anyone can refute it. The thought came up when Emmett compared Aristide to Saddam Hussein in a comment to "Different Take On Haiti". This struck me as a bit black and white, so I'd like to delve into the Aristide presidency a bit more:

The backdrop for the coup in Haiti was allegations that the elections in 2000 were a massive fraud. But looking at contemporary reports, this seems like an exaggeration. In '94, Aristide's power was secured by US forces after he won free and fair elections. In '97, he willingly stepped down from power in keeping with the constitutional provision precluding consecutive terms. His successor, Preval, was also fairly elected.

The trouble begins in May 2000, when the senatorial elections are called corrupt. Reading the criticism, note that even the critics agree that each election was won by the person with the most votes. The complaint was that there was no runoff vote in 18 of 19 elections because the leading candidate got more than 50% of the vote. The thing about this vote that was unconstitutional was that only the leading 4 candidates' votes were counted, causing an inflation of all the percentages, making it easier for a candidate to win 50% and prevent a runoff. This sort of fraud would not appear to distort the final result of an election, because clearly the candidates with the most votes still wins; and to make a partisan cheapshot, that's more than we can say about our own presidential election.

After the senate election, Aristide ran for president in November. Alleging that the senate elections were fraudulent, the opposition boycott the election. In the week preceding the election, there were even several bombings. It's unclear who was behind them, but considering that the opposition was boycotting the election, it seems like it would have been in their interest to commit these acts in order to discourage people from going to the polls (their stated goal was low turnout). Add in that the two opposition leaders, Guy Philippe, and Chamblain, are respectively a drug dealer and a convicted murderer, and Aristide starts to look like the lesser of two evil, or at least, in a different class of evil than our friend Saddam.

Perhaps, I'm being an apologist for a terrible dictator, and I deserve to be corrected. But I think sometimes the problem with liberal foreign policy is that it judges leader's actions by an absolute standard rather than judging them relative to their environment. This can be dangerous, because in places like Haiti, where there are no real "good guys", we're left morally unable to support anyone, which can lead to the kind of instability we're seeing in Haiti.

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