WITH ITS NEW election law, Haiti is now sliding rapidly toward a sadly familiar style of managed election. Soldiers are to be allowed in the polls, but not candidates or civilian observers. Everybody's ballot will be open to inspection by government officials. Any hope for a reasonably free choice is fading fast.
The present provisional government, the junta under Gen. Henri Namphy, is apparently prepared to risk cuts in foreign aid despite the dire effect on an impoverished country. Aid from many sources makes up more than half of the government's budget; American aid alone is 10 percent of the budget, and the United States has now stopped all aid to the government. It is continuing only the kinds of aid -- food, for example, and the malaria control program -- that are delivered by private organizations directly to the people who need help. As for the rest, the junta is apparently prepared to do without it.
Ideally, the United Nations or the Organization of American States would now prepare to intervene in behalf of democracy. But neither of them is showing any inclination to move. Both have too many member governments that are anxious to avoid setting any precedent for international supervision of suspect elections. The Namphy junta has responded to the speculation about intervention with a burst of xenophobic propaganda.
But there are a lot of unanswered questions about Gen. Namphy's intentions, and his idea of what he's doing. The junta is by no means in secure control of the country or perhaps even of the army. Sometimes it seems to let itself be pushed by lower-ranking officers who chiefly want to preserve the corrupt practices that real elections would endanger. Sometimes it seems to be intimidated by the most extreme of the former Duvalier regime's supporters and their armed gangs. Sometimes the junta seems to be gripped by the fears of communism on which the Duvaliers played incessantly. It's not clear whether the junta is simply trying to perpetuate the politics of exploitation in the Duvaliers' style, or whether Gen. Namphy may have other motives to which Haiti's friends abroad could usefully respond.
But there's little time left to explore the possibilities. The general has scheduled the elections for Jan. 17. Francois Duvalier came to power through an election run by the army, and, once in power, he and his son held to it for three decades. When the next ruler has taken office, legitimately or not, he may prove equally durable and equally costly to this destitute country.