Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Haiti's Elections Discussed at The Final Call, with No Mention of Gender at all. TIME doesn't do much better in respectfully discussing, Mirlanda Manigat, Haiti's leading woman candidate

Admittedly in Spanish, not Haitian French, this image is from here at MADRE, also linked to below, a site and amazing human rights organisation that respectfully honors women of all colors
This post contains two articles-in-full being cross-posted. Each may be linked back to by clicking on the title.

The first is from The Final Call. Whenever an article about people in crisis neglects to mention gender, at all, as even existing, one can bet one thing not being discussed is men's violence against women and sexism in general. Both institutionalised sexism and men's violence against women are serious problems impacting the lives and precipitating the deaths of Haitian women and girls, which, as in most places, constitutes over half the country's human population.

Haiti lost three key feminist organisers there at the time of the earthquake eleven months ago. Note the image used at The Final Call, as it appears only males live in Haiti.

Below the article by TFC, is a TIME magazine piece, reprinted at the website for the Rassemblement des Démocrates Nationaux Progressistes d'Haïti. It discusses the only woman candidate, Mirlande Manigat. Should she be victorious in a run-off election in January, she would become Haiti's first female leader; she also has a political critique of Haitian government and non-Haitian NGOs. Yet TFC has only eight words of description about Ms. Manigat: "who has been a longtime voice of opposition". I call that lack of attentive regard and discussion about her candidacy outright "sexism".

In the TIME piece, pay attention to another form of sexism used to promote her candidacy: from noting her attire, her soft-spoken demeanor (which makes her not seem like an "insurgent"), and her being grandmotherly. TIME also informs us of the fact that she is a doctoral graduate of a European university, which has its own function in Western media to "legitimise" her as "a smart person" while also making her seem like someone who would give you a big hug and offer you some milk and cookies. But TIME won't mention men's violence against women either. When the victims of men's crimes are not white, TIME won't give the issue the time of day. They will comment in stupid ways about being a rapper, however. A quote from what appears below:
[...] the country was exhilarated by the outsider candidacy of Haitian-American hip-hop star and philanthropist Wyclef Jean. When Haiti's electoral council disqualified Jean's bid in August on residency grounds, the question was where his support, especially among the large cohort of young voters, would shift. 
To the surprise of many pundits, much of it seems to have moved from the gold chains of rapper Jean to the pearl strands of matriarch Manigat.

People stand in line for their Haitian National Identification cards so they can vote. With the November 28 general elections in Haiti came controversy and charges the elections were rigged. Photo: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Haiti's elections, compromise and the future

By News | Last updated: Nov 30, 2010 - 12:29:36 PM

Reeling from cholera and seeing an electoral process stumble forward under horrible conditions, the Haitian people attempted to vote. Elections for president and legislators Nov. 28 have drawn complaints and accusations of ballot stuffing, denial of the right to vote and intimidation and other problems.

Charges of rigging votes, buying votes, denying votes or tossing votes isn't new anytime there is a “democratic process” from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Chicago, Il., to Cleveland, Ohio to Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

The troubling thing for Haiti, however, is that the country is at a critical juncture and some attempt at defusing popular dissatisfaction and anger would be good for today and tomorrow.

It has been almost a year since an earthquake plunged the country into a crisis. Instead of news about progress and success, the most widespread news has been of deaths from cholera and clashes with UN peacekeepers, who many believe are responsible for the deadly outbreak. The disease is linked to sanitation and is waterborne. It causes diarrhea, dehydration and can be fatal. The street battles with peacekeepers have also been fed by feelings that UN troops are an occupying army, not a pro-Haitian security force.

Ten months after the earthquake, some 1.3 million people remain homeless, still living in tents, under tarps or wherever they can find a place to lay their heads—despite the sun, the rain, the dust, the noise, the disease. That people are literally dying because they cannot get clean water is one sign of Haiti's vulnerability, how badly the international community has failed and how Haiti's hobbled national government has floundered.

But in the midst of this chaos could be a sign of hope for the future and it may have come from those who have issued complaints about the voting. After Sunday elections, 12 of the parties or candidates came together to issue some joint declarations about problems with the elections and the need to cancel the elections. Two major candidates backed away from the statement the next day, but still have called for calm.

Perhaps that joint declaration and calls for calm can open the door for some sort of compromise as a way to defuse a possible explosion as frustration and anger mount. Two popular presidential candidates and reported frontrunners—Mirlande Manigat, who has been a longtime voice of opposition, and popular musician Michel Martelly backed away from calls to cancel the election. Mr. Martelly was reported to be leading in some places where the ballots were tallied.

The results of the elections aren't expected until Dec. 7 and a final tally should come Dec. 20 for what were described as chaotic elections at best.

“Even if calls to cancel the election go unheeded, the results may not be decisive; a runoff would take place January 16 if no candidate wins the requisite 50-percent-plus-one portion of votes in the first round. Voters cast ballots not only for President René Préval's successor, but also for 11 of 30 seats in the Senate and all 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies,” noted the Council of the Americas, which describes itself as an international business organization concerned with development and the rule of law.

“MINUSTAH (the UN peacekeeper force) estimated that roughly 4.5 million voters were eligible to vote at 11,000 polling stations in 1,500 voter districts throughout Haiti. But The New York Times reports that, with services still in disarray because of earthquake destruction, electoral authorities had delivered fewer than half of roughly 400,000 new and replacement identification cards needed to vote,” the council said.

Election observers from the international community admitted problems but said voting issues were not bad enough to scrap the election. Haiti's election council has stood by its democratic product—which has not moved those who see the council as an extension of current President Rene Preval and handpicked successor Jude Celestin.

Wyclef Jean, the Haitian American musician and humanitarian, has called for some type of international involvement, fearing the country could explode into violence if the situation is not handled properly and quickly. He was ruled ineligible to run for president but joined in the process by supporting “Sweet Mickey” Martelly.

There are plenty of Haitian and non-Haitian voices calling for cancellation of the elections.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said, “From the banning of the country's most popular party from the ballot to election day irregularities including numerous reports of ballot stuffing and the disenfranchisement of numerous eligible voters, these elections were an obvious farce from start to finish.”

“The international community should reject these elections and affirm support for democratic institutions in Haiti. Otherwise, Haiti could be left with a government that is widely seen as illegitimate,” he said.

“In Cite Soleil, for example—a Fanmi Lavalas party stronghold with a population of around 300,000—less than 100,000 people were registered to vote,” according to the center. “It is clear that the sentiment here is that the international community should have done something to provide for people's basic needs, such as shelter, drinkable water and sanitation, and get some of the other life-threatening conditions—including the cholera outbreak—under control, before trying to hold elections,” said one staff person for the center. Lavalas is the popular party of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide, a champion of the Haitian masses, which was ruled ineligible in this election.

With the number of candidates, the voting problems and daily suffering in Haiti, there are more than enough sparks that could ignite this powder keg.

But none of the candidates were expected to garner the 50 percent of the vote necessary to win the presidency outright; meaning a Jan. 16 run-off between the top two vote getters would be required. Perhaps an interim government could be established to give election participants some share of power as either new elections are planned or a unity government is formed. It would not allow the Preval government, which is not very popular, to solely remain in charge. But a unity government could begin to heal wounds and promote unity key to overcoming major problems. Such an idea may seem naïve or impossible, but one thing is certain: If Haiti explodes there will be no winners, only losers and more years of suffering and unnecessary deaths. Against that backdrop, you can also expect the world to turn its back, excuse itself of responsibility, allow bodies to pile up and say “Haitians did this to themselves.”
*          *          *

The Woman Who Would Be Haiti's Next President

By Tim Padgett and Jessica Desvarieux / Port-au-Prince Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

The woman who could be the next President of Haiti — and the first female to be elected to that office — doesn't strike you as an insurgent when she walks into a room.

But Mirlande Manigat, a smartly dressed, soft-spoken, 70-year-old Sorbonne Ph.D., insists she's after nothing less than a "rupture" with Haiti's dysfunctional political establishment. "Not one that's violent or brutal, but there must be change," Manigat said in an interview with TIME at her campaign's Port-au-Prince headquarters. "We can't leave so many millions of Haitians abandoned anymore."

So far, her message is resonating inside the western hemisphere's poorest country, which was ravaged in January by an earthquake that killed some 230,000 people — and is beset now by a cholera outbreak that has claimed almost 1,000. Two weeks before Haiti's Nov. 28 presidential election, voter polls show Manigat the clear front runner in a field of 19 candidates. In the most recent survey by Haiti's independent Economic Forum, released late last week, Manigat significantly widened her lead over President René Préval's hand-picked candidate, engineer Jude Celestin, to eight points, 30% to 22%.

That the government's choice is trailing isn't a surprise: Préval's often AWOL response to the apocalyptic quake has alienated most Haitians from his INITE (Unity) Party. Their frustration with Haiti's corrupt, incompetent political elite, which many feel INITE represents, is a big reason the country was exhilarated by the outsider candidacy of Haitian-American hip-hop star and philanthropist Wyclef Jean. When Haiti's electoral council disqualified Jean's bid in August on residency grounds, the question was where his support, especially among the large cohort of young voters, would shift.

To the surprise of many pundits, much of it seems to have moved from the gold chains of rapper Jean to the pearl strands of matriarch Manigat. (She's also eclipsing Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, himself a Haitian pop-music star, who ranks third in the Forum poll with just 11%.) If so, one reason may well be that "many Haitians feel the time has come for a woman to lead the country," says prominent Haitian historian and political analyst Georges Michel. "So here's Manigat, a well-respected scholar. She takes many of the populist positions that [Jean] had, and they respond to her grandmotherly image. To a lot of them, it seems to inspire confidence and trust." Those qualities will be in loud demand, because Haiti's next President will oversee some $10 billion in reconstruction aid pledged by international donors.

Even though she's a woman, Manigat is by no means a political outsider. She is, in fact, a former First Lady, the wife of former President Leslie Manigat. They met in the 1960s at the University of Paris, where he taught history while in exile — having been condemned to death at home by brutal Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who died in 1971 — and she was his student. They married in 1970, living in France, Trinidad and Venezuela before returning to Haiti in 1986 after the ouster of Duvalier's son and successor, dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

In 1988, Leslie Manigat, under the banner of the Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP), won the presidency in an election marred by military meddling. After only four months in office, he was overthrown in a coup. He ran again in 2006 and finished a distant second to Préval. But although Préval did not win the 50% necessary to avoid a second round, the electoral council never held a runoff — and in protest, Mirlande Manigat withdrew as the RDNP's Senate candidate. "I cannot support illegality," she said of her controversial move.

In that regard, Manigat and her supporters may see Nov. 28 as a chance for revenge, especially since many Haitians believe her 80-year-old husband will be a power behind her throne if she wins. But Manigat insists that she and the RDNP — which she calls a center-left, "capitalist with a human face" party in the tradition of successful moderate Latin American leftists like Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — want to check a venal elite that she accuses of "grave social indifference and insensitivity. It was there before, but after the earthquake it has shown itself in worse ways."

Manigat, vice rector of the Université Quisqueya in Port-au-Prince, tells TIME that along with tackling Haiti's nightmarish inequality via reforms like universal access to public education — only about half of the country's children even attend school — one of her big aims is to make the Haitian state something more than an effete subordinate of foreign NGOs. "There are many NGOs positioning themselves to receive the [$10 billion], yet they want to operate outside of state control," says Manigat. "My government will not operate the NGO way."

Manigat feels Haiti's earthquake recovery "has not really started" — admittedly, rubble removal and the rehousing of some 1.5 million displaced Haitians have been frustratingly slow — but like most of the candidates, she's not specific about how she'd hasten it. She backs changing Haiti's constitution to allow dual citizenship, which could aid the country's reconstruction by tapping into the resources and talents of the vast Haitian diaspora, including more than a million Haitian Americans. But critics, based on some of her teachings of Haitian constitutional law, fear that Manigat could have authoritarian designs to expand presidential powers — which she denies.

Manigat has been helped by the uncharismatic campaigning of Celestin, 48, a relatively unknown technocrat. On the stump in the southern port city of Jacmel recently, he repeated his less-than-electric slogan of "stability and continuity" while touching on criticisms of the Préval government by saying, "We know that there were things that were a little ignored." That has pushed erstwhile Préval supporters like Port-au-Prince carpenter Jourdanie Damler, 35, to Manigat's camp. "The INITE guys have forgotten about us," says Damler. "I'll try Madame Manigat."

Since no candidate is likely to win 50% of the vote in the first round, the race will probably come down to a Jan. 16 runoff (less than a month before the Feb. 7 inauguration). Some wonder how Haiti can even conduct a credible election given the lingering quake chaos and cholera epidemic. Manigat says the vote "has to happen" for Haiti to move forward, but after the 2006 dispute, she adds, she and the RDNP "will be vigilant against fraud trickery." This grandmother won't tolerate it.


No comments: