Haiti Elections Postponed Until January

The presidential election in Haiti has been postponed for the third time amid continuing violence and a lack of trained poll workers and equipment. Elections, set for Dec. 27, are now scheduled for Jan. 8. Michele Norris talks with Mark Schneider, senior vice president and special adviser on Latin America for the International Crisis Group.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A number of factors have been working against organizers of the upcoming presidential election in Haiti: violence, a lack of equipment. This week there were two pieces of good news, according to people involved in the process. First, yesterday the United Nations said it's prepared to provide security for the election. Then today, news that may not, on its face, seem so good: The election has been postponed again. Here in the studio is Mark Schneider. He's senior vice president and special adviser on Latin America for the International Crisis Group.

And, Mark, this is the third time the election in Haiti has been put off. Why is that a good thing?

Mr. MARK SCHNEIDER (Vice President, International Crisis Group): Because they're clearly not ready to carry out elections on the date that they originally decided. In fact, when they were first scheduled, very few people had been registered to vote and they hadn't decided who were the candidates. They hadn't decided where the people would vote. Unfortunately, they still haven't quite set up the voting centers where people will vote, and so they--when they scheduled the election tentatively for two days after Christmas, we objected that that was not enough time to either get control of the security situation or to take care of logistics, to get people who registered--and 3.4 million people have registered--to get them the kinds of cards they need so that when they go to vote there won't be a hassle.

NORRIS: So the elections have been postponed from December 27th to January 8th, a short delay. Is that enough time to fix all these problems?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: We've actually put out a report today that suggested that those elections should be postponed into middle to late January in order to provide an opportunity for all of the registered voters to receive their voting cards and also to permit the 40,000 election workers who are needed to be hired, to be trained.

NORRIS: And this will be the first election since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile. Bring us up to speed here. Tell us about this interim government.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Sure. The transitional government essentially came into being after a multinational force was authorized by the UN to bring order to the situation immediately after former President Aristide left. The United States, Canada and France ran that multinational force and after three months, in June of 2004, they turned it over to this United Nations mission, which has essentially been managed by Latin American contingents, which is a good thing. The problem is that the transitional Haitian government that was put into place has not been very effective. They've not made a lot of decisions that needed to be made early on to take care of recreating a new civilian national police that would be adequate, putting in place a non-partisan provisional electoral council. Instead, the council has been sort of riven by partisan political issues.

NORRIS: Is there really a--the thought that this election will usher in a new chapter for this very troubled country?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: This is everyone's hope, and that's why it's so important that these elections be credible, credible in the sense of the candidates can campaign and that it's seen as a fair opportunity for them to make their case to the voters, credible in the sense that the people who want to vote can vote, and credible in the sense that the votes that are cast are counted fairly. And that's why there have been so many objections to early dates when no one is prepared for the elections.

NORRIS: So under the country's constitution, a new government would be sworn in by early February. What if--what happens if the elections are postponed once again, and it sounds like that could happen?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Well, I think the issue of the calendar date should not be seen as critical. You've already passed so many dates within the constitution. Elections really should have been held the last Sunday in November. The Parliament was supposed to be sworn in the second Monday in January. That's not going to happen. So if the presidential inauguration gets pushed back by a month so that elections are credible, that's well worth it.

NORRIS: Mark Schneider is a senior vice president on Latin America for the International Crisis Group.

Thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Not at all, thank you.

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