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Political Parties

During presidential campaigns, political parties organized under the banner of specific personalities. Political parties have existed in name for a long time, but they have not exerted any independent influence on the political system. Rather, parties have served as campaign vehicles for individual politicians.

In the 1870s and the 1880s, the emergence of the Liberal Party (Parti Liberal--PL) and the National Party (Parti National- -PN) reflected the polarization between black and mulatto elites (see Decades of Instability, 1843-1915). In the wake of the United States occupation (1915-34), nationalist parties organized around the issue of resistance to foreign occupation. These parties included the Patriotic Union (L'Union Patriotique) and the Nationalist Union (L'Union Nationaliste). During the presidential campaign of 1946, there were many candidates and parties, including the Popular Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste Populaire--PSP), the Unified Democrat Party (Parti Démocrate Unifié--PDU), the Worker Peasant Movement (Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan--MOP), the Popular Democratic Party of Haitian Youth (Parti Démocratique Populaire de la Jeunesse Haïtienne--PDPJH), the Communist Party of Haiti (Parti Communiste d'Haïti--PCH), and a federation of groups known as the Haitian Revolutionary Front (Front Révolutionnaire Haïtien, FRH).

The presidential campaign of 1956-57 included candidates who ran under the banners of the National Agricultural Industrial Party (Parti Agricole et Industriel National--PAIN) led by Louis Déjoie, the MOP led by Daniel Fignolé, the PN led by Clement Jumelle, and the National Unity Party (Parti Unité Nationale-- PUN) of François Duvalier. During the Duvalier years, the three non-Duvalierist parties continued to function in exile in the United States mainland and Puerto Rico.

Both Duvalier governments banned or severely restricted opposition political parties. Consequently, about a dozen opposition parties operated in exile, including Leslie Manigat's RDNP based in Caracas, the Unified Haitian Communist Party (Parti Unifié des Communistes Haïtiens--PUCH) based in France, the National Progressive Revolutionary Haitian Party (Parti National Progressiste Révolutionnaire Haïtien--Panpra) headed by Serge Gilles and based in France, and the Democratic Revolutionary Party of Haiti (Parti Révolutionnaire Démocratique d'Haïti) based in the Dominican Republic and subsequently known in Haiti as the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Haiti (Mouvement Démocratique pour la Libération d'Haïti--MODELH), headed by François Latortue.

During the presidential campaign of 1987, more than 100 candidates announced their candidacy. As of August 1987, twentyone political parties had registered. None of these parties, however, developed a nationwide organization. At the time of the sabotaged elections of November 19, 1987, the race was expected to be won by one of four candidates: Sylvio C. Claude, standard bearer of the Christian Democrat Party of Haiti (Parti Démocrate Chrétien d'Haïti--PDCH); Marc Bazin of the Movement for the Installation of Democracy in Haiti (Mouvement pour l'Instauration de la Démocratie en Haïti--MIDH); Louis Dejoie II, son of the 1957 presidential candidate, representing PAIN; and Gérard Gourgue of the National Cooperation Front (Front National de Concertation--FNC).

The Gourgue candidacy under the FNC appeared to have considerable support in urban and rural areas. The FNC was a loose federation of parties, community groups, and trade unions based on an organization called the Group of 57. The party included the National Committee of the Congress of Democratic Movements (Comité National du Congrès des Mouvements Démocratiques--Conacom), the Patriotic Unity Bloc (Bloc Unité Patriotique--BIP), and Panpra, which had re-established itself in Haiti with the return of Serge Gilles. Bazin and Dejoie also returned from exile to organize their presidential campaigns. Claude's PDCH and the Social Christian Party of Haiti (Parti Social Chrétien d'Haïti--PSCH) led by Grégoire Eugene were the only two political parties organized in Haiti that sought to operate openly during the Jean-Claude Duvalier years. The remaining parties had either formed during the post-Duvalier period or had returned from exile to join the campaign.

The collapse of the Duvalier dictatorship encouraged the development of civil society in Haiti and created an unprecedented opportunity for independent associations which Haitians vigorously seized. Some of these had traditional political objectives and functioned like political parties, which had been banned throughout most of the Duvalier dictatorship. But many of these political parties were no more than vehicles for the advancement of a single politician and, like the national government, made little effort to address the needs of the vast majority of Haitians who live outside Port-au-Prince and other urban areas.

Numerous political parties - most of them small - field candidates in elections. Some parties aspire to have broad influence but are unwilling to bend from their single-issue focus. Others exist merely as fronts for ambitious individuals. The smaller Haitian political parties often formed alliances and coalitions. President Aristide's Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas - FL) party received a large measure of support. A broad alliance of democratically minded parties known as the Democratic Convergence (Convergence Démocratique - CD) provides the most distinguishable opposition to FL. Other umbrella coalitions attempting to unite smaller parties include the Alliance for the Liberation and Advancement of Haiti (ALAH), Grand Center Right Front Coalition, and Haitian Greater Socialist Party (Grand Parti Socialiste Haïtien - GPSH).

As of 2004 the main parties were the Mobilization for National Development; Alliance for the Liberation and Advancement of Haiti, Assembly of Progressive National Democrats, National Congress of Democratic Movements, National Progressive Revolutionary Party, and the Haitian Christian Democratic Party, Haitian Democratic Party. The underlying issues and trends stem from abject poverty, political pressure from the following: Autonomous Haitian Workers or CATH; Confederation of Haitian Workers or CTH; Federation of Workers Trade Unions or FOS; National Popular Assembly or APN; Papaye Peasants Movement or MPP; Popular Organizations Gathering Power or PROP; and the Roman Catholic Church, and from illegal drug trafficking.

In a properly-functioning democracy, citizens are able to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their leadership through periodic elections. Ever since its formation, however, the opposition Democratic Convergence (Convergence Démocratique - CD) steadfastly refused to take part in legislative elections. Its initial stated reason was to protest the government's decision to declare victory for Lavalas Senate candidates in the May 2000 election on the basis of achieving an absolute majority among the four top candidates in each race, rather than an absolute majority of all votes cast, as stipulated by the constitution and the electoral law. There was never much doubt that the Lavalas candidates would have won the required runoff elections, and when the government offered to hold a new election for the disputed Senate seats, the opposition declined. By 2003, the reason given has been the government's failure to control violence by so-called Popular Organizations affiliated with the ruling Lavalas Family.

Although the army disbanded in 1995, former military personnel remain a political force. Many former officers participated in the opposition movement that led to President Aristide's ouster. Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church continues to exert influence on the political scene. During the Duvalier dictatorship of the 1980s, political parties and trade unions were crushed, leaving only the Catholic Church to represent the interests of those oppressed by the government. Since that time, the church has become less political but remains a potential political advocate for opposition groups.

In rural areas, a variety of groups sprang up to respond more directly to local needs. Known broadly as gwoupman (popular organizations), the members of these groups came mostly from the country's vast peasant population. Nurtured in part by foreign assistance and Church support, group members joined together in farming cooperatives, literacy programs, and rural development projects, often with support from abroad. Over time, new groups formed to pursue a more traditional political agenda -- land reform, opposition to official corruption, and respect for human rights.

Organized activity expanded quickly in urban areas as well. Politically active trade unions, professional student and women's organizations, and thousands of block associations and community groups were born. A vibrant press emerged, primarily in the form of the popular Creole radio, providing information about other organizational activities and a forum to denounce periodic attacks on this independent movement.

There is no doubt that the pace and range of social mobilization in Haiti outpaced evolution of the country's political mobilization. In contrast to many other countries emerging from dictatorial rule, where pluralism among political parties was not matched by social and ideological diversity, political parties were among the least developed parts of civil society. Rather, the strength of Haitian civil society lay in its breadth and diversity outside the narrow realm of electoral politics. This development allowed Haitians a considerable voice in local affairs, even as their ability to influence national politics was limited by an unrepentant army intent on preserving the spoils of power.

As these elements of a civil society grew in power and influence, they increasingly challenged the traditional power structure, most of which remained firmly entrenched following Duvalier's departure. This challenge reinvigorated the longstanding struggle to establish democratic institutions.




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