Haiti's Democratic Hopes

PERHAPS the best that can be said about Haiti's election is that the country will soon have another chance to prove itself. Missing ballots, shuttered polling places, and haphazard counting were among the shortcomings during Haiti's June 25 attempt to crank its democratic engine.

The sputtering should have surprised no one. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is back in his rightful post, having been escorted there by US forces last September. But his country is still struggling to free itself of the wreckage left by nearly two centuries of repression and thuggery.

The June vote was the most ambitious democratic exercise in Haiti's history - more than 10,000 candidates vying for more than 2,000 legislative and municipal offices. At the end of this month, the experiment will continue, with runoffs among the leading vote getters. That'll be the first opportunity for electoral officials to show they can improve their track record: better organize ballots, make sure candidates and parties are properly identified, and arrange for well-lighted ballot-counting sites. Progress now should pay off in a smoother presidential vote in November.

With an electorate that's 80 percent illiterate, and roads and electric service that barely exist in some areas, Haiti must overcome logistical challenges to hold any election. It isn't fair to look for the efficient, fraud-free process that characterizes votes in affluent, longer-lived democracies.

As one international observer of the June election noted, "It's a start." That start also includes the building of a credible civilian police force in place of the discredited army, a task now well under way, and the commitment of President Aristide to step down when his term expires at the end of this year and welcome his successor.

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