Flashback|New York Times-March 29, 1987 : « Haitians Voting Today on a New Way of Life »

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New York, samedi 27 mars 2021 ((rezonodwes.com))–

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

March 29, 1987, Section 1, Page 9

In the most decrepit slums of this impoverished country and in the cool hills where the rich live in luxurious villas, there was a rare mood of ebullience today as people prepared to vote Sunday on a constitution that defines a new way of life in Haiti.

The new constitution contains dozens of specific measures creating obstacles to any future dictatorship and promising personal liberties and such previously nonexistent features as the right to free education, decent housing and a fair day’s pay.

It creates an independent commission to conduct presidential elections, scheduled for November, and bars from participation in the elections anyone in the armed forces as well anyone closely associated with the Duvalier family dictatorship, which ruled Haiti with an iron hand for nearly 30 years.

The constitution may not be able to deliver all it promises in a poor country with no democratic tradition. But in contrast to the timid interim Government that has presided since street protests brought down President Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986, the new constitution has given voice to the Haitians’ most passionate hopes and is expected to be approved by a wide margin.

 »People like it because it embodies the spirit of the revolution, » a foreign diplomat said.

 »It is a useful healing document, » he said.  »It may not be a useful operating document. »

The most influential political groups have given their endorsement, and the Roman Catholic Church, a key shaper of public opinion, has issued a veiled statement that is being widely interpreted as supportive.

Eighteen small nationalist and leftist groups are urging abstention from voting, and at least two leftist organizations have threatened protest demonstrations. There have been reports that some of those who were close to the deposed dictator have been campaigning against the constitution, warning that its approval would open the way for a Communist takeover of Haiti.

But Leslie Manigat, a former professor of political science and one of the leading candidates for president, said he believed approval was a certainty.

 »I don’t see how anybody can change the overwhelming trend toward a yes vote, » he said in an interview at his headquarters.

The most common objection to the constitution is that in their zeal to protect Haiti from the evils of the past, the authors may have created a government so hobbled with checks and balances that it cannot govern. Power is distributed among a president, a prime minister, a chamber of deputies and a senate. How they will relate to each other is not entirely clear.

Many political leaders said they were temporarily putting aside the question of how the government would work and accepting the constitution as a tool for guiding the country through the transition to an elected president.

The provisional Government suspended the last Duvalier Constitution and has been governing by decree.

 »Without this constitution there are no rules of the game, » Mr. Manigat said.  »We just leap into the unknown. »

Some oppose the constitution because it formally establishes the provisional administration as the official government until Feb. 7, 1988, when the next president is to be inaugurated. This, critics say, further entrenches a de facto government. The constitution also, for the first time, recognizes the universally spoken Creole as an official language, along with French, and eliminates a widely ignored curb on the practice of voodoo, the blend of Catholicism and African beliefs unique to Haiti.

Fair elections have been rare in Haiti’s history, and the referendum is regarded as a learning exercise.

Last October, in the country’s first election since the fall of the dictatorship, there was great skepticism and little publicity, and fewer than 10 percent of those eligible voted.

But excitement built as the 40 people who were chosen then, along with 20 appointed by the interim Government, worked for several months on drafting the constitution in sessions that were broadcast live over national radio.

recherches : cba

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