After Haiti earthquake, council prepares for elections – from Gold's Gym

Despite the Haiti earthquake, President René Préval says the country will hold elections before his term expires next year. Haiti's election oversight body is working on the logistics from its makeshift headquarters in Gold's Gym.

Esteban Felix/AP
Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council former headquarters is shown in Port-au-Prince last week. After the devastating Jan 12. earthquake, the council set up shop in Gold's Gym, where it is preparing for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Haiti's election oversight body is in Gold's Gym a lot, though muscle-toning isn't on the agenda. The gym is where the provisional electoral council (CEP) has been working since the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake destroyed its office.

Had the 7.0-magnitude temblor not struck, the nine-member presidentially-appointed council would be finalizing upcoming parliamentary elections. Instead, it is revamping the electoral calendar in the wake of what a Red Cross official said "may well be the worst natural disaster ever" in terms of its proportionate impact on one country.

Most of Haiti’s 127 parliamentarians will be past their electoral mandate this May, and President René Préval's term expires Feb. 7, 2011. He is ineligible to run a third time.

Current debate is swirling over the logistics of holding an election in the devastated country, and also whether the presidential elections should be held separately from those for parliamentarians, mayors, and local and regional representatives.

President Préval has vowed to hold elections within the year. “Elections will happen before I leave office,” he said Wednesday in an interview with the Monitor. “The capital was destroyed, but the rest of the country still works. Whether it’s by electronics, electoral cards, or dunking your thumb in ink, we have to find a way to hold free, transparent elections as soon as possible."

Is an election feasible?

Even if there is political will to hold elections, problems exist. The earthquake destroyed 43 percent of voting booths in the three affected departmental regions. Voter registration has stopped and many of those who are registered no longer live in the same place, as the quake left 1 million people homeless and sent many away from Port-au-Prince.

The head of the United Nations electoral team charged with logistics, technical support, and security was also killed in the quake. A new team, which has to be trained, just arrived this week.

There is also the question of popular support. Complaints about the government are as common as tent camps in the capital. Disgusted by what he calls the lack of government response to the quake, Jean Jacques Henrilus, a coordinating member of one of the largest peasant organizations, says that now is not the time to hold elections.

“The crisis is too great,” he says. “Instead of elections we need to put together a coalition of representatives that can manage the crisis, one that can change the manner in which this country has been run, reflecting a new vision that includes decentralization and decongestion.”

International support for an election

Some parliamentarians are pushing for a governing body that would include a regional state council that would in turn help form a national state council. The national state council would, among other things, decide when elections should be held.

The international community seems committed to pushing forth the idea of elections. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a joint press conference last week during Préval's visit to Washington, said she had "assured President Préval that the United States would work with the international community to hold elections as soon as appropriate.”

For some, that means by the end of the year. For others, like Rodrigue Desire, a Haitian national and former US marine, that means never.

“I’d rather have the US be our government,” he said. “We heard from Obama before we heard from Preval after the quake. My government has never done anything for me, so voting for a new one means nothing.”

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