PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, DEC. 12 -- A new electoral board, whose nine members were handpicked by the military-dominated government and are all political unknowns, was sworn in today at the Supreme Court in a sparsely attended ceremony that marked the culmination of a six-month struggle by Gen. Henri Namphy to gain control of national elections.
One of the new members, Clement Maurice-Barthelmy, said he learned from a television newscast last night that he had been named by the government to join the new board that will organize national elections now scheduled for Jan. 17.
"I'm a citizen. I must do my duty," explained the 48-year-old math teacher before he and the eight other board members were sworn in.
Other new election officials said the government asked beforehand if they would accept the post. The new board members also made clear in interviews that they are willing to organize an election within strictures laid down by the ruling National Government Council, headed by Namphy.
Namphy's government council has sought to gain control of the election process since June 22, when it issued a decree sharply restricting the autonomy of an electoral board whose members had been appointed, under terms of a 1987 constitution, by the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Supreme Court and other institutions independent of the government council.
Namphy backed down from that attempt to control the board after two weeks of strikes and widespread street protests. But the general refused to help and protect the electoral board while it attempted to organize presidential and legislative elections last month and then dissolved it on Election Day, Nov. 29, after violence forced the board to call off the elections.
The Supreme Court was one of the institutions that refused to name a delegate to the new board. Today, the justices avoided comment about the swearing-in that they conducted.
Some new board members differed sharply with the previous electoral board on key issues. Joseph Azor, a medical doctor, said he believes that "errors of interpretation" of the constitution led the former board to eliminate 13 presidential candidates associated with the ousted Duvalier dictatorship. The Duvalier loyalists allegedly took revenge by sending gunmen to disrupt the election.
But Maurice-Barthelmy argued that the previous board was correct in barring the candidates. "It wasn't the board's fault. They followed the constitution," he said.
Max Michaud, who described himself as an unemployed lawyer, was asked how a new elections law will be written to replace the one that Namphy abolished Nov. 29. "The government will decide," he said.