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#4556: Sunday's controversial vote in Haiti likely to support Aristide's party (fwd)


Sunday's controversial vote in Haiti likely to support Aristide's party
 July 9, 2000  Web posted at: 9:15 AM EDT (1315 GMT)

ST. MARC, Haiti (AP) -- Haitians appeared set to grant former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party overwhelming control of Parliament in   
elections Sunday, even though many   people question the legality of a
vote that  is being challenged by opposition parties and much of the
international community. At stake are 45 seats in the 83-member       
Chamber of Deputies as well as $500 million in frozen foreign aid and,
in all likelihood, the future of a tortuous decade-old experiment with
democracy in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.  Polls were to
open at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT) Sunday for the second-round vote. The first
round May 21 for legislative and local elections yielded strong support
for Aristide's Lavalas Family party -- but also bitter recriminations
over a vote  count that allegedly was illegally manipulated to favor his
party.  "The elections were not fair," said 75-year-old voter Kiefer
Nazaire. But in a  reflection of the fundamental resilience of Aristide,
Nazaire said he would vote Sunday for Lavalas because he felt there was
no viable alternative.According to the first-round count, Lavalas
candidates were enjoying a lead in all the districts at stake Sunday.   
Opposition parties may have sent a contradictory message: Their
candidates are  running Sunday, but their national leaders have called
for a boycott of the vote. Still, the opposition parties' claims may be
sinking in. A poll of 458 people in Le Nouvelliste newspaper Saturday
showed 43 percent believed there was "massive fraud" in the first round.
The poll had a margin of error of 5-7 percentage points. The elections
have been tainted from the beginning by charges that Lavalas used    
intimidation tactics and stacked electoral councils with its people.
Fifteen people, most from the opposition, were killed in the run-up to
the May 21 elections. But the main bone of contention now is about the
first-round vote count.Candidates had to win a majority of 50 percent
plus one vote to claim victory. 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. Those results gave Aristide candidates 16 of 19 contested
seats in the 27-seat Senate. An independent candidate won one seat, and
results have not been announced for the other two. In the 83-member
Chamber of Deputies, Aristide's party won 26 seats in the first round,
and in the cases of 12 other seats -- most in the Grand'-Anse district
-- counting has not been completed or will be decided in a later runoff.
Results released Friday also gave Lavalas 89 of 115 mayoral elections
and 321 of 485 rural councils. The electoral council president fled to
the United States last month, saying he feared he would be killed
because he would not sign off on false results, and two members of the
nine-member council resigned in protest over the disputed results. The
United Nations, the United States, Canada and France have condemned the
first-round count, and international observers have refused to monitor
Sunday's 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 "calls into question the credibility of the
entire Haitian election process."Sunday's voting -- to be monitored only
by two local human rights groups and a pro-government peasant union --
caps a tortuous decade-long experiment with democracy in Haiti. Aristide
was elected in 1990 but was overthrown in a 1991 army-backed coup.  With
tens of thousands of Haitian boat people landing in Florida and
thousands of civilians being murdered in Haiti, U.S. President Bill
Clinton sent some 20,000 troops to restore the former Catholic priest to
power in 1994 -- even though his popularity was based on an
anti-capitalist, anti-American stance. Haitian law barred Aristide 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 marred by irregularities led Aristide's successor
and protege, President Rene Preval, to dismiss lawmakers. He has ruled
by decree since. The Caribbean country of 8 million people lives in
misery. Two-thirds of workers don't have regular jobs, electricity in
the capital is limited to about 12 hours a day, and most people don't
have running water or telephones.  Many people here still view Aristide
-- who is favored to win November presidential elections -- as a
potential savior, and that support is filtering down to his party.
"Lavalas, for us, is the only hope here," said Jean St. Juste, a
27-year-old unemployed man in the port of St. Marc.