PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, DEC. 9 -- The military-dominated government announced today that it will hold national elections Jan. 17, while three of the front-runner presidential candidates from the aborted Nov. 29 elections said they will refuse to participate in the new vote.
Marc Bazin, Louis Dejoie and Gerard Gourgue issued a joint communique saying they will not run in elections called by the ruling National Government Council. They charged that its abolition on Nov. 29 of an independent electoral board was unconstitutional.
With today's announcement, the sides are now clearly drawn in a political showdown over the elections.
In a terse communique read on state-run television tonight, the three-man government council headed by Gen. Henri Namphy announced an elections calendar to begin Friday with the naming of a new electoral board.
The announcement said new elections laws will be promulgated Dec. 18, and the inauguration of a new president is scheduled for Feb. 7, 1988, as Namphy has pledged.
A fourth front-runner, Sylvio Claude, said last week he would boycott any election set up under the government council.
Thus, the four political parties that would probably have taken the largest number of votes in the Nov. 29 balloting all have refused to participate in new elections until the government council reinstates the dissolved electoral board.
Another group of candidates has emerged since the collapsed Nov. 29 elections who accuse the old electoral board of corruption and fraud and attack the front-runners as dangerous leftists. Those candidates, who according to polls were not likely to win the first vote, now say they are anxious to run for president in the new election.
In the jockeying for position, the two front-runners the government has most often labeled as radicals, Bazin and Gourgue, have refrained from demanding the government's ouster. Bazin is a 55-year-old finance expert who served periodically with the World Bank for 18 years before returning from exile to Haiti last year. Gourgue, 61, is a teacher and veteran human rights activist.
Dejoie, 59, a wealthy pro-American civil engineer, and Claude, a 53-year-old Baptist minister popular for his long-time opposition to the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, have both insisted that a new government council must be formed in order to guarantee free elections.
Tony Verdier, a spokesman for Bazin, said the three candidates reached their election decision in a meeting late yesterday.
Among those candidates who said they will join in the government council's elections are Gregoire Eugene, 62, of the conservative Social Christian Party, who waged years of political battles in Haiti against the Duvaliers, and Hubert de Ronceray, who broke with the Duvaliers in the early 1980s.
Eugene charged in an interview that the old electoral board had rigged the election in favor of Gourgue. Eugene said the board failed to distribute ballots for his party to many polling stations.
Eugene argued that it would be impossible to hold an election without close cooperation between the electoral board and the government council. Namphy's council and the armed forces that he commands refused to provide security or logistical assistance for the old board.
"Gourgue's not a communist, but the groups supporting him are closer to communism than to anyone else," Eugene said. "If the old electoral board had carried off its election, I would probably have been forced into exile."
Eugene's charges echoed the message of a campaign the government has waged through the state-run television and radio for the past five days.
In the days before the elections, a U.S. official described Gourgue as "a friend of the United States."
By moving to boycott the government's election, the front-runners risk remaining on the sidelines of a tightly controlled electoral process from which a president will emerge. One European diplomat said their move today may have been exactly what Namphy was hoping for.