PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitian authorities say they have barred the country’s most popular political party from Senate elections, a move some fear could spark unrest. Haitian electoral officials said The Lavalas Family Party failed to submit papers from former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide authorizing the party’s list of Senate candidates. Aristide is living in exile in South Africa.
Lavalas Family Party members protested when officials refused to register their candidates on Feb. 6. Electoral officials gave them until Monday to submit the legal mandate.
Lavalas missed the deadline, officials said late Monday. So its 12 candidates were barred from running in the April 19 Senate election. Many fear the decision to ban Lavalas could spark a new wave of unrest and political instability in Haiti.
The United States, France, the Organization of American States and others have expressed concern that the decision could affect the credibility and legitimacy of the elections. A senator from the party, Yvon Buissereth, called the decision nonsense and said it was a move toward illegitimate and anti-democratic elections.
“President Aristide is in exile and has not been actively making decisions about the party’s activities for several years now,” Buissereth said. “It’s a total nonsense to obligate him, from his exile he did not choose, to get involved and validate candidates.”
Aristide left Haiti on Feb. 29, 2004, amid a bloody rebellion led by a former army and police officer, Guy Philippe. Aristide, who was accused by his foes of despotism and corruption, was also under intense pressure from the United States and France to resign.
Rudy Heriveaux, another senator from Aristide’s party, said the electoral council’s decision to request a formal mandate from Aristide was a pretext to expel the party, which he said was in the best position to win the majority of the seats. “The Lavalas Family Party participated in the 2006 legislative and presidential election. President Aristide did not give any mandate and election authorities found no problem with that,” Heriveaux said.
Several members of the electoral council were chosen by rival parties, and The Lavalas Family Party has no representative on the panel. Council President Frantz Gerard Verret rejected allegations of bias and said the decision was made in accordance with electoral law.
United Nations troops were sent to Haiti to restore stability after Aristide’s ouster. The UN mission has been extended at least until October. Several Lavalas factions claimed the party’s leadership after Aristide’s ouster from Haiti.
The leader of one faction, Maryse Narcisse, said in a statement that she was speaking on Aristide’s behalf. She said Aristide refused to legitimize what he called the coup that toppled his government by signing documents before consuls appointed by those who forced him from power.
“Those who were the victims of the coup are now those who have been excluded from the electoral and democratic process,” the statement said.

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