By Dialogo March 17, 2011 Former president Jean Bertrand Aristide will return to Haiti on 17 March, after seven years in exile in South Africa and three days before the second round of elections to choose Haiti’s next president, an individual close to him told AFP. “Aristide is expected in Port-au-Prince on Thursday,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The former priest governed Haiti three times: in 1991, then between 1994 and 1996, and again between 2001 and 2004, when he affirms that he was forced to leave office under pressure from the United States and France, amid clashes between his administration and rebel militias. His spokesperson Maryse Narcisse confirmed that he is going to return to his country before 20 March and that preparations for the trip have already begun. “President Aristide’s return has nothing to do with the elections,” she added. The former president – who continues to have support in poor neighborhoods – first expressed his desire to return shortly after another former president, Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, did so in January, claiming that he was “prepared” to return and contribute to the country’s rebuilding, particularly in the area of education. Just like Duvalier, Aristide, who is fifty-seven years old, insisted that he would stay out of politics, a statement received with skepticism by opponents and international observers. The former priest’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, did not take part in the recent presidential race, although his most faithful partisans have been putting up his portrait in the streets for weeks, in the hope that he will return to Haitian politics. On 14 March, the United States reiterated to the former president that he “should postpone his return” in order to avoid disturbing the second round of voting, planned for 20 March, which will decide who will be René Preval’s successor. Aristide entered Haitian politics in 1985 as an opponent of the dictator ‘Baby Doc,’ presenting himself as the savior of the Catholic poor – the great majority of the country’s population – and speaking Creole, ultimately becoming the first democratically elected president. The Haitian government has now opened the way for his return, granting him a new passport in February. South Africa, the country where he has been exiled all these years, said that it was not its “responsibility” to say whether the former president “should or should not” leave before the elections.