PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The military-dominated government announced Wednesday that it will hold new presidential elections Jan. 17, replacing an election that was canceled due to violence last month.
However, three leading presidential candidates vowed not to participate in any election organized by the government, which they blame for the street terror that forced the closure of the polls on Nov. 29.
The announcement of a new election date was broadcast on government-run television late Wednesday night. The statement was given in the name of the National Government Council headed by army Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, which has ruled Haiti since the ouster of President-for-Life Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier in February, 1986.
The announcement also said that a new Electoral Council to replace the one dissolved by the government on election day would be named Friday. Under Haiti's new constitution, nine civic groups are supposed to name any replacements, but most have declined to do so. The government is apparently prepared to name the members itself.
The three presidential contenders that pulled out--Louis Dejoie II, Gerard Gourgue and Marc Bazin--published a joint statement saying they would "not engage in any election organized under the present government."
"Anything that the army organizes will not be valid," Dejoie said in an interview.
The three called for the reinstatement of the original nine-member Electoral Council that organized the Nov. 29 election. A fourth leading candidate, Sylvio Claude, had already announced he would not run unless the old council were put back into place.
The government dismissed the council after the panel canceled the Nov. 29 elections.
Before the election, the council had excluded several would-be candidates whom it had deemed too close to the Duvalier regime. Government supporters had said the council was favoring "leftist" candidates.
The four protesting candidates are said to be the likely front-runners in any legitimate race for president. In all, there were 23 candidates in what was to have been Haiti's first free elections in more than 30 years.
In the days preceding the November vote and on election day itself, gangs of gunmen roamed the streets in Port-au-Prince and other cities, shooting down voters in cold blood. Some witnesses said that government soldiers took part in the carnage. In all, 34 people were reported killed in the capital alone.
Meanwhile, a general strike to protest the government's role in aborting the elections was only partially successful Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, Port-au-Prince returned to normal, with stores reopening, workers traveling to their jobs and legions of street vendors and beggars taking up their posts on rain-soaked street corners.
"They are tired. A lot of killing has taken its toll, and the people have not seen results from their protests," a Western diplomat said.
The November violence capped a long wave of terror that began in June, when the government first tried to take control of the electoral process from the election council. Protests and strikes set off a wave of killing by soldiers as well as plainclothes gangs, believed by many to be remnants of the Tontons Macouts, a private army established during the 29-year Duvalier family dynasty.