Haiti's shaky provisional government appears to be hanging on to power largely by default. Supporters and opponents of the military-dominated junta agree that the government has lost most of the backing it gained immediately after dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled to exile in February.
But as pressure for the junta to resign has mounted, through strikes and demonstrations, the forces that would sweep it away have been held in check by the absence of a viable civilian-led substitute government.
Political parties that were banned by former President Duvalier are still organizing and remain far from ready to assume the reponsibilities of power. Some of them have formed alliances with trade unions, civil organizations, and human rights groups to demand a change of leadership, but they lack sufficient cohesion to agree on an alternative.
No obvious group or individual has emerged to lead the opposition in response to rising public clamor for the junta's removal.
Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, who heads the junta, says he will step aside in February 1988, three months after general elections in which he has vowed not to stand for president. He says he cannot hand over power earlier, because Haiti is not yet ready for democracy after 30 years of dictatorship.
General Namphy points to the creation of more than 60 political parties and the declaration of more than 200 candidates as evidence of the immaturity of Haitian politics. He sees himself in a political vacuum. ``The parties have wasted nine months,'' he said in an interview. ``They have had nine months to organize themselves and have not done so.''
Namphy said the government would assume the responsibility of educating Haitians unaccustomed to democracy. Opponents argue that since the Army supported a dictatorship for 30 years it is hardly qualified to do the teaching.
Western diplomats note that the political field has narrowed to about 12 parties capable of mounting a realistic challenge.
Haitian journalists say the number of serious contenders could be as few as before. One of these contenders is Leslie Manigat, whose Nation Democratic Progressive Party was formed in exile in Venezuela seven years ago and now has offices and an expanding party machine in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Manigat doubts Namphy will keep out of the presidential race. He is suspicious of Namphy's reluctance to place the running of elections with an independent commission. They are currently the responsibility of the interior minister, Col. Williams Regala, who many Haitians see as the guardian of the Duvalier regime.
Yet Manigat has remained aloof from popular movements and political alliances seeking Namphy's removal. ``When you want to overthrow a military government, you have to ask yourself if there is a viable alternative,'' he cautioned. ``We have no interest in exposing the country to the risks of civil war.''
Another serious presidential contender is banker Marc Bazin, leader of the Movement for the Installation of Democracy and the man perceived as Washington's most-favored candidate. Mr. Bazin believes that the genuine forces of democracy in Haiti are engaged in a three-cornered fight with a government of Duvalier followers defending the status quo and leftist extremists who hope to gain from increasing public disorder.
``The government does not seem to realize the danger of letting people occupy the streets, often with very legitimate demands,'' Bazin said. ``You have a lot of people asking for dialogue and consultation, but how has the government responded? By saying there is emptiness, there is no one to talk to, and there are 200 candidates.''
Diplomats here believe Duvaliar followers remain in the best positions to profit from a slow plunge into anarchy, should Namphy lose control. ``If the democratic experiment collapses, the likely inheritors of power are the right not the left. They still have a lot of influence,'' one Western ambassador said.
But when rightists recently formed a neo-Duvaliarist party, public outrage forced it to disband within a fortnight.
The United States has placed its faith in Namphy's commitment to lead Haiti into a new democratic era. ``We don't see anybody else who could do the job,'' a US diplomat said.
US officials believe it is Namphy's lack of ambition that has cost his government its earlier popularity.
``They have this modest view of what they want to accomplish and it's way out of whack with what people expected,'' one US official said.
``People are saying: `Where is the new Haiti we were promised?' And the general is saying: `Ask the politicians.' They have to assume the mantle of responsibilty, but the politicians are not quite at the point where everybody agrees they are going to have to be pretty soon.''