On November 2, Americans will have the opportunity to vote for their representatives in Congress, an election likely to affect whether the "normal" retirement age is raised for Social Security and how decisively President Obama moves to end the war in Afghanistan. There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the electoral system in the United States as we know it. But it could be much worse. We could be confronted with the electoral system that Haitians are currently facing in elections scheduled for November 28.
In Haiti, as things are currently run, political parties are completely excluded from participation if the people currently in power don't like them, including Haiti's largest political party, the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed and exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
It is a telling fact of our political-media culture that while American newspapers regularly carry articles, op-eds and editorials raising the alarm about democracy and human rights in countries where the U.S. has little influence, the major U.S. media are virtually silent about extreme violations of democratic rights in Haiti, a country where the U.S. has tremendous influence. (Two rare, praiseworthy exceptions have been the Miami Herald, which last month published this op-ed by Ira Kurzban, and the reporting of the AP's Jonathan Katz.)
In particular, the unfair elections that Haitians are expected to endure are expected to be paid for by foreign donors, including the U.S. There is no serious question whether the U.S. has influence it can use. Indeed, in Afghanistan, the U.S. and other Western donors, who pay for Afghan elections, told the Afghan government, unless you implement certain reforms, we're not paying for the election.
But, although both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress have called for the U.S. to use its influence in Haiti to ensure a fair electoral process, there has been so far no visible change in U.S. policy. Despite all the blather following the earthquake about how "this time it's going to be different, this time Haitians will have a say," it's not different this time. Not yet.
In June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report prepared under the direction of Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Member. Senator Lugar's report called on the State Department to press the Haitian government to reform Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council so that political parties, including Fanmi Lavalas, would not be arbitrarily excluded from participating in the election. But, as far as anyone can tell, the State Department never said boo about it.
Now Representative Maxine Waters is circulating to her colleagues a letter to Secretary of State Clinton, urging Secretary Clinton to make a clear statement that elections must include "all eligible political parties" and "access to voting for all Haitians, including those displaced by the earthquake." Rep. Waters' letter urges that the US not provide funding for elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements.
Shouldn't it be a no-brainer to say that the U.S. shouldn't pay for elections in Haiti from which the largest political party is excluded? If you agree, ask your Representative to sign the Waters letter for fair elections in Haiti. You can reach the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121; ask to be transferred to your Representative's office.