PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An eleventh-hour attempt by Haiti's army-led provisional government to fashion quick new elections more to its liking faltered Friday as three independent groups responsible for organizing the electoral process refused to go along with what one political leader called "an army sham."
Haiti's Roman Catholic bishops, its six leading human rights organizations and its Journalists' Assn. rejected outright a request by the National Government Council, led by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, to appoint new electoral councilors to replace the nine civic leaders Namphy sacked during Sunday's bloodily aborted attempt to conduct the country's first presidential and parliamentary election in more than 30 years.
The government request was interpreted by the three independent groups and a number of politicians as an attempt by Namphy's regime to erect a false constitutional facade around elections that would in fact be run by the army, excluding many of the candidates who tried vainly to face the polls Sunday.
The constitutional cover is important to the provisional government because international recognition and resumption of canceled foreign economic aid depend upon Haiti's having at least an appearance of democratic elections.
Under the Haitian constitution, a new civilian government must be sworn in by Feb. 7 following free elections supervised by nine electoral councilors named by eight independent groups and the government. Namphy's regime interprets the constitution to mean that it had the right to fire the councilors and ask the eight groups to nominate new councilors, or, if the groups refuse, to seat councilors of its own choice on the independent Electoral Council.
"This is a game they're playing, but no one is going to accept it," said Louis Roy, a leading political figure and architect of the country's constitution. "The army's dismissal of the Electoral Council Sunday was unconstitutional, therefore any attempt they make to create a new council to run the election will be unconstitutional."
In rejecting the army move, the Catholic bishops condemned the government's role in "these crapulous crimes" that aborted Sunday's elections in horrifying massacres by troops and armed gangs at the polls. The bishops also condemned the regime's "unjust treatment" of the electoral councilors and said their firing was unconstitutional.
The human rights and journalists' groups took the same position, and at least one more of the eight groups responsible for naming councilmen, the Protestant church, was also expected to reject the Namphy move. The groups responsible for naming the remaining five councilors are Namphy's ruling council, the government-appointed National Advisory Council, the government-dominated University Council and leaders of the country's business and agricultural cooperatives.
In another attempt to regain a semblance of respectability following its implication in the events of "bloody Sunday," the government said it was naming an investigative commission of army officers and some civilians to find who was to blame for the massacres and acts of terrorism that derailed the election.
At least 34 people were killed and scores more injured when army troops and civilian gunmen, thought to be Tontons Macoutes, the dreaded secret police of ousted dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, cold-bloodedly fired on lines of people waiting to vote.
Political leaders dismissed the commission as a public relations gesture or an attempt to whitewash the army's role in the killings.
Meanwhile, tension remained high in Port-au-Prince as life nervously approached near-normal on the streets and in the marketplaces of the city. Those who could afford to do so appeared to be stockpiling food and other supplies in response to fears of general protest strikes beginning next Monday. Two groups, the Christian Democratic Party and an association of private sector employees, issued strike calls, but it remained uncertain how many people will respond.
But the expectation was widespread that if the strikes materialize in the form of street demonstrations and the army uses strong-arm methods to halt them, there will be greater bloodshed than that which occurred Sunday.