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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS -
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Constitution loses in Haiti election fight: analysts

Posted in the database on Tuesday, December 27th, 2005 @ 15:34:30 MST (595 views)
by Jim Loney    Reuters  

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Haiti's constitution is being violated by both the U.S.-backed interim government and by the candidacy of a Haitian American millionaire running strongly in the polls in a long delayed election, analysts say.

"The government has not been paying much attention to the constitution," said Brian Concannon, a U.S. lawyer who worked in Haiti and helped prosecute military leaders accused of a peasant massacre.

The first round of voting in the troubled Caribbean nation is scheduled for January 8 with a run-off, if needed, on February 15. But elections officials have said another delay seems likely.

Dumarsais Simeus, the Haiti-born founder of a Texas food company, has been running second to former President Rene Preval, but the Provisional Electoral Council, which organizes elections, has twice said Simeus cannot run because he is an American citizen.

Haiti's 1987 constitution, a point of pride when it was written in an impoverished nation struggling to recover from decades of dictatorship, requires presidential candidates to be Haitian citizens. It also says citizenship is lost by "naturalization in a foreign country."

Yet Haiti's Supreme Court has twice ruled that Simeus should be put on the ballot.

On December 9, the day after the Supreme Court's latest ruling on Simeus, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue fired five high court justices. Latortue was chosen by a council of elders after elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile 22 months ago.

"It's a little ironic that he (Latortue) is saying Simeus isn't legitimate. To be a prime minister or president you should have to have five years residency (in Haiti)," said Concannon. Latortue lived in Florida before taking office.

Asked about the controversy, Simeus said tersely in a recent interview: "I don't want to debate the constitution. The Supreme Court reviewed the case."

"I have Haitian nationality of origin. My grandparents and parents were descendants of slaves. This Haitian nationality cannot be lost," he added, describing Latortue's interim government as one of "total anarchy, total lawlessness, total dictatorship."

WIDER CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES

The machinations over Simeus' candidacy and the jailing without charges of hundreds of Aristide supporters, widely criticized by human rights groups, are symptoms of disrespect for institutions of democracy that have been slow to take root in the former slave colony, analysts say.

Jean-Germain Gros, a Haitian-born assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri, said Haitians seem to believe the constitution is only "suggestive."

"The clauses of the constitution are suggestions only. They are not things that are binding," he said.

"Haiti is a failed state and when you have a failed state, nothing else works. Not the constitution, not the economy," Gros added. "The real issue in Haiti is the absence of a state."

Analysts say Latortue's interim government has already violated a key provision of the constitution by failing to hold elections within 90 days of Aristide's ouster in February 2004, and seems destined to violate another by failing to inaugurate an elected president by February 7.

"The rule of law is thin in Haiti," said Harvard University professor Robert Rotberg, who has written extensively on Haiti. "I think if you asked a cross section of a lot of Haitians if they had a constitution, they would not know how to answer you."



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