PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- With less than a month until new elections under the control of the military-dominated government, Haiti is more closely resembling the dark days of the 29-year Duvalier dictatorship than a nation in the final weeks of a transition to democracy.
Killings by Duvalierist gangs have fallen off since the head of the ruling National Government Council, Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, seized control of the electoral process after the Nov. 29 vote was halted by violence. But terrorist threats and attacks continue.
Many members of an independent electoral board that Namphy dissolved last month have since been on the run, searching each day for a safe place to hide for the night. Namphy's ruling council named a new electoral board, whose members were picked by the government and are political unknowns, to prepare for new elections on Jan. 17. Late last week, it issued a new electoral law that effectively curbs voting secrecy and independent monitoring of polling places.
Reports of a death list bearing the names of Haitian journalists and politicians have circulated here. Some opposition activists have made ready for a quick flight into exile.
The home of a progressive candidate for Haiti's Senate, Guy Bauduy, was riddled with bullets and firebombed eight days ago. Bauduy took his two small daughters and went into hiding.
The Roman Catholic Church's Radio Soleil, whose transmitter was damaged in a terrorist attack on Nov. 29, has received a string of threatening phone calls. "Next time, we'll have to kill some priests, too," one caller warned.
The ongoing mayhem is seen as a sign that Namphy's strategy of holding elections closely supervised by the armed forces is under attack from two sides. Four leading moderate and liberal candidates from the first race have announced a boycott of the vote and called for the government council to step down in favor of a new civilian-led junta, including Cabinet members drawn from the institutions that formed the dissolved electoral council.
But, according to Haitian political sources, the more threatening challenge is coming from leading Duvalierist politicians who, based on a clause in the 1987 constitution, were barred by the former electoral board from running in last month's elections. Government council leaders have tried to persuade them to stay out of the new round of balloting, but they are determined to run.
Some of their supporters, among them former members of the Duvalier militia known as the Ton-Tons Macoutes, are widely believed to have joined in the rampage of terror that stopped the elections and left at least 34 people dead. This month the terrorists have been less visible than they were in November but remain at large.
Since the aborted election, the armed forces arrested more than 50 Haitians suspected of participating in spontaneous night-watch committees that arose before the vote to guard against antielection violence. But no arrests have been reported in connection with the violence started by antielection thugs that dramatically increased in the days immediately before and on Election Day.
No one in Haiti -- not Namphy, nor even the former officials who most faithfully served the Duvalier dynasty -- seeks the return to power of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, in exile in France since Feb. 1986. The group of presidential candidates who were barred from the last vote are called Duvalierist because they held high posts in the dictatorship and espouse "Papa Doc's" reactionary black-nationalist doctrines.
It now falls to Namphy's handpicked electoral board to decide whether to opt for a strict interpretation of the constitution and bar the Duvalierists a second time or allow them to run. If the board turns them down, a new election law that the government council published on Saturday gives the Supreme Court the right to overturn the decision.
In addition, under the new law, any Haitian who challenges a candidate's right to run could be fined, jailed and sued for civil damages if the challenge proves to be "unjustified." The former electoral board used such citizen challenges to bar the Duvalierist candidates from last month's election.
The new law also bars candidates and journalists from polling places, but permits soldiers in them. And it requires candidates to issue their own ballots to voters, who are then required to present them to polling officials for inspection before they are allowed to go into booths to fold them, thus enabling election and government officials to learn how individuals voted.
In a provision that observers say is directed at the four politicians' boycott, the law mandates jail terms and fines for anyone who "mistakenly" urges people not to vote in the new election.
In recent interviews and private conversations, Namphy has explained that he took over the electoral process to subdue what he described as an unacceptable rebellion against the armed forces by overly independent electoral officials and to stop politicians he viewed as leftist from triumphing at the polls.
Haitian politicians and diplomats say many of the views that Namphy and other government officials have expressed since the elections collapsed hark back to mainstay themes of "Papa Doc's" ideological arsenal.
For example, special propaganda programs on the state-controlled television news have been stressing the threat of a communist insurgency in Haiti.
"Duvalier was an old master of anticommunism. The military is trying to use it to make the Americans believe they had a real reason to stop the elections," said Michel Soukar, a leader of the political organization of liberal candidate Gerard Gourgue, whom the government has accused of being Marxist. Gourgue's followers deny the charge.
In recent weeks, the state television also has broadcast nightly programs featuring well-known voodoo priests who extoll the government. Leading practitioners of voodoo, which the majority of Haitians believe in, had been closely allied with the Duvalier regime.