Aristide's US enemies try to discredit poll

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President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti must have known he would have to pay a price for the US military intervention that restored him to power last year. Now, the price is clear.

Since the intervention was described as President Bill Clinton's only foreign policy success to date, Haiti has become a key policy issue in the US in the run-up to next year's elections to the White House.

Take Haiti's local and parliamentary elections on 25 June. Mr Aristide's Lavalas (Torrent) platform swept the majority of town halls, parliament and Senate seats. It seemed set to sweep the rest in the second round planned for 6 August, for constituencies where no candidate won more than 50 per cent.

Although feared election violence never materialised and observers saw little evidence of fraud, opposition politicians, many supported by anti-Aristide US lobbyists, cried foul. They called for cancellation of the results, and then threatened to boycott the second round.

In the US, politicians who were unable to point to organised fraud, focused on the "shambles" of the electoral process, saying many people did not get to vote and that the elections should be rerun. Yet there have been few street protests in Haiti and the feeling there is largely one of satisfaction that "the people have spoken". There was never any doubt that supporters of Mr Aristide, deposed in a 1991 coup, would romp home.

Even the New York Times, while criticising a report by the Carter Center of election observers as "unnecessarily alarmist", said in an editorial this week: "The idea of having run-off elections in some races that technically do not require it - such as the bitterly contested election for mayor of Port-au-Prince - has merit."

How come? The incumbent mayor, Evans Paul, a man long groomed by the Americans to take over from Mr Aristide as president, lost by an overwhelming 45 per cent to 18 to a folk singer, Manno Charlemagne, who had Mr Aristide's tacit support. Mr Paul,head of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), seeing his presidential ambitions slip, wants a re-run though there was no sign of fraud.

The thrust of US Republicans is clear. Destroying the credibility of the Haitian elections, and if possible of Mr Aristide, will convert Mr Clinton's great foreign policy success into a myth. But opponents of Mr Aristide, including the Republican US Senator Jesse Helms, who labels the Haitian President a "psychopath", have a more specific aim in overturning these election results.

While Mr Aristide cannot run for a second consecutive term in presidential elections due in December, the local and parliamentary results look like giving his Lavalas platform control of both houses of parliament. That would keep him in power, regardless of who takes the presidency, and would allow him to amend the constitution to enable him to run for a second term, or call a referendum on whether his present term should be extended. The President feels he has the right to make up for the three years he lost in exile between the coup and the US intervention.

Mr Aristide invited Mr Paul and the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), to the palace yesterday to head off a crisis and ensure a second-round vote. By the afternoon it was not clear Mr Paul had attended the palace meeting.

Mr Paul's NFCD was the centre-left coalition for which Mr Aristide ran for president in 1990. But after winning, Mr Aristide moved away from the coalition and built up Lavalas, named after the torrents of water in rainstorms that are noted for their cleansing effect.