PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The political party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide will be barred from legislative elections scheduled for February 28, Haitian elections officials said on Wednesday.
The decision drew immediate criticism from Aristide, a onetime populist hero in Haiti who was ousted in an armed rebellion in 2004. From his exile in South Africa, he asked whether elections officials were trying “to organize an election or to make a selection.”
Aristide is a former Roman Catholic priest who became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1991 and won a second election in 2000. His Lavalas Family party is still considered the most popular political force in the impoverished Caribbean nation of 9 million people.
“The Lavalas Family party will not be allowed to participate in the next election because the electoral council’s legal counsel said the party did not meet all legal requirements,” electoral council president Gaillot Dorsainvil told local radio stations.
He did not specify which requirements the party failed to meet.
Ninety-eight of the 99 seats in the legislature’s Chamber of Deputies will be at stake in the February election, along with one-third of the 30-member Senate. The vote for the remaining lower house seat will be held at a later date.
Aristide faced accusations of corruption and despotism when he was forced from power in February 2004 during a bloody armed rebellion and under U.S. and French pressure to quit.
Sources close to the electoral council told Reuters the decision to bar the party was motivated by suspicions that the signature on a faxed letter sent by Aristide, authorizing local representatives to register the party, was falsified.
Last week, the council asked Lavalas Family official Maryse Narcisse to provide the original of Aristide’s letter. It was handed over to election officials, who then decided to bar the party.
In a rare interview, Aristide confirmed on local Radio Solidarity on Wednesday that he had given authority to Narcisse to register the party, and questioned whether Haitian officials wanted to hold fair and democratic elections.
“That will depend on whether the electoral council wants to organize an election or to make a selection,” Aristide said by phone from South Africa. “If they want to organize elections, I encourage them. But if they want to make a selection I urge them not to take that path because it will not serve the country’s interests.”
Lavalas Family was barred from previous elections over alleged failures to meet legal requirements.
Aristide’s allies accused election officials of dismissing their party in order to favor a new coalition close to President Rene Preval. The group, called “Unity,” replaced Preval’s dissolved “Lespwa” coalition.
“Our decision has no political motivations,” Dorsainvil said. “It is based on requirements of the electoral law.”
Editing by Jim Loney and Mohammad Zargham