HAITI is not far from civil war. Calculated terrorism disrupted the election last weekend, and some of the army was clearly involved. It's going to be difficult to hold any election there under those conditions, and more difficult still to hold an election that is more than the elevation of another strongman by his heavily armed friends and clients.

Why the resistance to elections? Some Haitians prospered under the Duvalier dictatorship and know that a democratic government will revoke their privileges. This newspaper's correspondent Julia Preston reports anxiety in the army among those officers who learned under a corrupt regime to live on graft and who now fear a cleanup. Before a genuinely free election can be held, two things will have to happen. The army's commanders will have to get their officers under control. And someone will have to disarm the former Ton-Ton Macoutes, the Duvaliers' gunmen, who are still in possession of their weapons and are out for hire to anyone with a little money and an interest in making trouble.

In the nearly two years since the Duvalier family was overthrown and fled, the United States has consistently supported Gen. Henri Namphy and his provisional government in the hope that they could hold things together until a legitimate government could be elected and inaugurated. Now, nearly at the end of this long process, those hopes have been betrayed.

Rumors are circulating in Haiti about an American military invasion, like the Marines' landing there in 1915. In reality the chances of American military intervention don't seem very large to us, but perhaps the rumors serve the useful purpose of suggesting to the gunmen that they do not enjoy unlimited latitude in stifling democracy in their country. While the Marines aren't going back to Haiti, continuing bloodshed there might well result in an international peacekeeping force to see the country through an election.

Gen. Namphy continues to promise that there will be an election and an inauguration within the next two months. In the present somber circumstances, it is useful to keep in mind Haiti's past experience with elections. Its last election, in 1957, was very orderly, having been well organized by the army. It proceeded, as one Haitian wrote, "in the perfect peacefulness of fixed bayonets." The counting of the ballots was carried out with the same kind of efficiency. The winner, by a huge margin, was Franc ois Duvalier.

That kind of election is now a possibility. It's not enough for Gen. Namphy to promise an election. It's the nature of the election that counts.