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#307: Haitian election date in doubt (fwd)


Haitian election date in doubt 
03:23 p.m Aug 20, 1999 Eastern 
 By Jennifer Bauduy 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Haiti will probably not be able to
hold legislative and local elections in November as planned because of
delays in creating regional polling offices and other problems,
electoral officials said on Friday. ``We said if there were no problems
it was possible to have the first round of elections on November 28, we
never said it was confirmed,'' Macajoux Medard, a member of the
nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, told Reuters. Medard said the
delay was caused by hold-ups in buying materials and setting up regional
election offices.`When we begin voter registration, then we will be able
to fix a firm date,'' Medard said. Officials said they were unable to
fix a firm date for the elections, the first in more than two years, if
they do not take place in November. The elections are seen as an
important step in efforts to establish a stable democracy following
decades of dictatorship and turmoil in the Caribbean nation, the poorest
in the Americas. A U.S.-led intervention force of 20,000 troops helped
oust a military junta in 1994, restoring to power the nation's first
freely elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. There are approximately 4
million eligible voters out of Haiti's 7.5 million population. Sixty
percent of the population lives in rural, mountainous areas,and many
doubt the majority can be registered in the next few months. Only 5
percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Haiti's last legislative
election in April 1997. On Thursday the U.S. government approved $3.5
million in  election aid to be funnelled through the U.S. Agency for  
International Development to make voter identity cards. U.S. election
funds for Haiti had been blocked because of a dispute over the results
of the April 1997 legislative election. On July 23, Haiti's election
council had announced Nov. 28 as the expected date for the first round
for legislative and local  elections, and Dec. 26 as a run-off date. 
Haiti's Constitution requires each new parliament to open  session on
the second Monday in January. ``We are still working for this to
happen,'' Medard said.President Rene Preval announced the terms of most
lawmakers except nine senators ended last January. He installed a new
prime minister and Cabinet in March and has been ruling by decree.