BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Haitian President René Préval is being urged to move faster to schedule presidential and parliamentary elections in quake-battered Haiti or risk losing the confidence of the U.S. Congress.
The warning comes from an influential member of Congress, who in an eight-page report obtained by The Miami Herald calls for Préval — whose presidential mandate ends in 2011 — to “issue the appropriate decree establishing an official date for presidential and parliamentary elections, without delay.”
“Our government is sympathetic to the plight of Haitians, as demonstrated by the assistance our military, diplomats and development experts provided in the wake of the disaster,” Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, said. “But the positive effect of assistance programs will be limited if Haiti lacks a responsible, popularly-elected government.”
Préval has repeatedly expressed his desire to hold elections, telling Haitians as recently as last week during an appearance in the Dominican Republic to prepare to go to the polls. And while he has been reluctant to announce a formal date, his advisors told The Miami Herald that a presidential decree authorizing the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to schedule the elections for Nov. 28 is currently under review and should be published in the coming days.
The report calls on Préval and his government to show “strong leadership” on the matter of elections and recommends that the U.S. State Department ask him to issue the presidential decree “in earnest” and restructure the membership of Haiti’s beleaguered CEP in consultation with the international partners in a way that “demonstrates a clear political commitment to contesting credible elections.”
The State Department is also being urged to ask donors to disburse a portion of the estimated $38 million needed to hold elections as soon as Préval issues the decree. The State Department also is being asked “to seek an agreement with the CEP and all political parties, including factions of Fanmi Lavalas, to ensure that the parties meet the CEP’s legal requirements and are not excluded from elections because of perceived technicalities.”
“The outpouring of goodwill and resources by the United Sates and the international community should be leveraged by Haiti’s leaders to catalyze compromises on contentious issues so that all sides can go forward and rebuild Haiti together,” Lugar said.
The report comes as legislation to provide Haiti with billions of dollars in reconstruction aid stalls in Congress. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to give Haiti $2 billion over the next two years for reconstruction efforts. The amount was less than the $3.5 billion Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was seeking over the next five years. The House has yet to vote.
Though support for Haiti remains on Capitol Hill, there is growing concern that a Haitian political crisis could derail U.S. efforts to help the country rebuild, especially as the catastrophic Jan. 12 quake becomes a distant memory and U.S. taxpayers increasingly focus on domestic issues, such as unemployment.
“The people of Haiti are confronted with a unique opportunity to alter fundamentally the trajectory of their economic, social and political future,” Lugar said. “The United States and the international community have demonstrated their desire to support the people of Haiti as they attempt to realize this objective. But this commitment should not be taken for granted.”