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#4550: Haiti Town Ready for Election (fwd)


Saturday July 8 12:53 PM ET Haiti Town Ready for Election              
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer 

 FONDS VERRETTES, Haiti (AP) - There's no electricity, no running water,
no telephone. The road winding down the mountain into town has a
dangerous crumbling edge and is rutted with potholes deep as a
 car wheel. The main street is a dry river bed, where the only building
is the hollow shell of a church. Yet people in this provincial town have
not entirely lost hope, and like many across this nation of 8 million
they appear ready to turn out for the decisive second round of Haiti's
bitterly divisive legislative elections. The vote is being held Sunday
despite accusations by opposition parties and international observers
that results announced from the May 21 first round were
 manipulated to favor the Lavalas Party of ex-president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. The United Nations, the United States, Canada and France have
condemned the first round voting, and international observers have
refused to monitor the second round in protest. On Friday, the U.S.
State Department issued a last-minute appeal for Haiti to correct the
balloting process, saying the count controversy ``certainly calls into
question the credibility of the entire Haitian election
 process.''In Fonds Verrettes, however, there is fervent hope that when
the dust settles there will finally be a stable and functioning
government in Haiti. That's a priority in the village, where they are  
looking for authorities to tackle the disaster left by 1998's Hurricane
Georges, which threw up a wall of water, mud and debris that demolished
stone and cement buildings and drowned 100 people. ``Ours is an
emergency case. A new government should make reconstruction a
 priority,'' said teacher Ilogene Merisca. ``We voted with that hope May
21, and that's why we'll vote again.'' Lavalas candidates are favored to
win most of Sunday's races - including the one in Fonds Verrettes, whose
roughly 30,000 people live in one-story cinder block houses on the
slopes bordering the dry river bed. ``Aristide's word is a word of hope,
and the people identify with him as with no one else,'' said physician
Barthelemy Guibert, 29. But the vote may only lead to more divisions in
a country that has not known stable democracy in two centuries of
independence. Violence erupted this week over the disputed results,
leaving two Lavalas members dead, 12 people wounded and nine houses
razed. ``The electoral process is a phony process and may pave the way
to a civil war,'' Evans Paul, an opposition leader and former
Port-au-Prince mayor, warned Friday. Haiti's election council chief fled
last month to the United States, saying he feared for his life because
he refused to sign off on falsified results, and two other members of
the nine-member council resigned in protest. Candidates had to win a
majority of 50 percent plus one vote to claim victory in
 the first round. But officials counted the votes of only the top four
contenders in each race, resulting in percentages that observers say
gave false first-round victories to numerous Lavalas candidates.
 Officially, Aristide candidates won 16 of 19 seats up for election in
the 27-seat Senate. An independent candidate won one seat and results
have not been announced in the other two. In the 83-member Chamber of
Deputies, Aristide's party won 26 seats in the first round. On Sunday,
46 others will be decided. In 11 other seats in the
 Grand'-Anse district, either counting has not been completed or they
will be decided in a later runoff. Sunday's voting will be monitored
only by two local human rights groups and a pro-government peasant union
after international observers bowed out. The difficulties cap a tortuous
decade-long experiment with democracy in the hemisphere's poorest
country. Aristide was elected in 1990 but overthrown in a 1991
army-backed coup. U.S. troops restored him to power in 1994, but Haitian
law barred him from seeking a consecutive term in 1995 elections. Haiti
hasn't had a Parliament since January 1999, when an 18-month struggle
over legislative elections marked by irregularities led Aristide's
successor and protege, President Rene Preval, to dismiss lawmakers. He
has ruled by decree ever since. Preval this week warned that Haitians
might give up on democracy if the results were not upheld by the world
community. ``I'm afraid the Haitian people will turn their back on this
exercise we call voting and decide to use all those options
 that are not democracy,'' he said. International approval is imperative
if Haiti is to get some $500 million in frozen foreign aid and attract
desperately needed foreign investment. On Friday, elections officials
announced Aristide's party had won in most mayoral elections and rural
and city councils in the May 21 voting. The results show the party
advancing toward almost total control of Haiti's local and legislative
posts. Few seem to doubt Aristide will also regain the presidency in a
vote expected by year's end. But some fear he has too much power
already. ``The country doesn't need a one-party state, but that is what
we're heading for,'' said Frankel Nelson, the outgoing mayor.