President Clinton is convinced that Haiti is on the road to democracy. But Utah Lt. Gov. Olene Walker is equally convinced it is a road littered with massive election fraud and voter disillusionment, all made worse by a "devastating" U.S. foreign policy.
"They (Haitians) have a total frustration with government and with democracy," Walker said Thursday from her Capitol office. "The people there were not voting because they said it doesn't make any difference."Walker was one of eight U.S. observers selected by the International Republican Institute for last weekend's elections in Haiti where one-third of the senate and all of the local assemblies were chosen. Only a tiny fraction of Haitians actually voted.
"I would concur with the media that only about 5 percent voted, not the 20 to 30 percent the U.S. ambassador said," she said.
What Walker saw was not democracy in action. Election workers, all of whom were hired by the ruling Lavalas Party, were observed dumping boxes of ballots into the trash. Others were seen changing tally sheets, opening sealed ballots and even assisting voters to select certain candidates.
Despite the fact she visited some 250 polling places, she saw only five or six people actually voting. At some polling places, no one had voted all day.
In a preliminary report written by Walker, the International Republican Institute noted the widespread disillusionment and frustration among the electorate.
"The weak turnout severely undermines the process begun in 1990 and now places an even greater responsibility on Haiti's government and all of the nation's leaders to overcome yesterday's lost opportunity," the institute wrote.
Haitians told Walker they stayed away from the polls because it didn't matter whether they were subject to a dictator or a democracy because "it only gets worse."
The Clinton administration has tried to put a positive spin on the Haiti elections, but those public statements were overly optimistic, she said. "They want to believe it so badly. Any little glimmering, they try to believe it," she said.
Nine opposition parties in Haiti actually boycotted the election. The U.S. observers invited representatives of three parties to meet with them, but only one did so. Representatives of the other two parties said they feared for their lives if they met with the observers.
Because the election was controlled by the ruling Lavalas Party, Haitians believed the election was nothing more than a means for the party to validate its hold over the legislative body, as well as the local councils who choose the judges in Haiti. "And they were absolutely right," Walker said.
Walker returned to Utah "so totally changed" by the experience.
"It certainly makes you appreciate not only our economy and opportunity here but our election process," she said. "I returned with renewed vigor to make sure our election process is never tampered with. It is something we certainly should value."
She is convinced there are three critical elements to making democracy work: a transparent process whereby all can observe the election process; political opposition; and a professional and critical press. And none of the three elements are present in Haiti.
At best, Haiti "is a democracy in embryo," she said.