FAQ: Haiti Elections

Compiled by washingtonpost.com Staff
Thursday, February 2, 2006; 1:44 PM

What's at stake in Haiti's election?

On Feb. 7, this impoverished Caribbean country of 8 million people is scheduled to elect its first government since a military rebellion forced the resignation of democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Haitians will vote for president and representatives in the two houses of the legislature. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held on March 19.

Why were elections delayed?

The vote was canceled several times because of problems registering voters and setting up polling places. Security issues have also been of concern -- election officials have said they won't allow polling stations in Cite Soleil and other shantytowns, where support for Aristide remains high, because of violent conditions. U.N. forces have ramped up security efforts in the weeks leading up to elections.

What kind of shape is Haiti in?

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and is the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere. The country's poverty is often linked to the country's chronic issues with violence and lack of democratic institutions. The country remains divided between Aristide loyalists and the opposition groups that backed his ouster in 2004. Armed gangs loyal to both sides control much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. also considers Haiti to be a hub for drug trafficking and kidnappings and murder are common, especially in Port-au-Prince, where security concerns have prevented candidates from campaigning. About 8,000 U.N. peacekeepers have occupied Haiti since the 2004 rebellion.

Who are the leading candidates?

A staunch Aristide ally, former president Rene Preval is considered the frontrunner. He is running against the opposition forces responsible for the 2004 rebellion.

Other candidates include: former World Bank official Marc L. Bazin, who became prime minister after Aristide was overthrown in 1991; opposition leader Charles Henry Baker, a businessman and television personality; Guy Phillipe, a leader of the 2004 rebellion; former president Leslie Manigat; Serge Gilles of the socialist Fusion party; Dany Toussaint, a former bodyguard of Aristide; and Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince and campaign manager for Aristide.

Haitian-born Dumarsais Mecene Simeus, a Texas businessman, has been barred from the ballot along with Gerard Jean-Juste, a former priest and Aristide ally who has been in jail since July 2005.

What is U.S. policy toward Haiti?

The United States has been deeply involved in Haiti's internal politics for decades, first sending its troops to the Caribbean nation under Woodrow Wilson in 1915. The U.S. was directly involved in several government transitions there: Installing a military regime after the fall of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, orchestrating the country's first free elections in 1990, and restoring deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994.

U.S.-Haiti relations grew complicated during Aristide's second term, as allegations of fraud from the 2000 elections divided the population and stoked violence. While the U.S. officially maintained its support of Aristide's government, it eventually looked aside as rebel forces took over in February 2004. U.S. officials escorted Aristide out of the country Feb. 29, 2004, and sent 1,800 Marines to help restore order a day later.

Since Aristide's departure, the U.S. has withdrawn troops but promoted new elections in concert with Canada, France, Brazil and other international donors.

Sources: The Washington Post, Associated Press, BBC, U.S. State Department; Wikipedia

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