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#4557: Haitians Vote in Elections (fwd)


Sunday July 9 2:04 PM ET  Haitians Vote in Elections                   
By SUSANNAH A. NESMITH, Associated Press Writer 

CORNILLON, Haiti (AP) - In an event expected to make former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide more powerful than ever, Haitians voted Sunday in
a final round of legislative elections that have inspired international
criticism and a boycott by nearly every opposition party. Despite their
own doubts, many voters said they felt Aristide's Lavalas Family party
was their only hope of restoring a working government to the
impoverished Caribbean country. ``Lavalas was sent from God to save
Haiti,'' said Joseph Francois, a 30-year-old university student in the
eastern town of Cornillon. Crowds were gathered outside polling stations
when they opened at 6 a.m., but turnout appeared to be lower than the 55
percent seen during first-round elections May 21. Elections operations
director Luciano Pharaon said he expected about 40 percent
participation. The first results of the vote are not expected for
several days.Pharaon reported no violence, though he said protesters
tried to barricade streets in two northern towns and near western
Gonaives. The protests were broken up by police without incident.       
Local elections officials postponed the election in northern Le Borgne,
apparently because of fears of unrest. The postponement leaves 44 seats
at stake in the 83-member Chamber of deputies. Also at stake is $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. The first round of 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 in northern St.
 Marc. But in a reflection of Aristide's resilience, Nazaire said he
would vote Sunday for Lavalas because he felt there was no viable
alternative. Results from the first-round put Lavalas ahead in all of
the districts at stake Sunday. Opposition parties may have sent a
contradictory message: Their candidates were running Sunday, but their
national leaders had called for a boycott. Pharaon said only about six
candidates out of more than 90 had publicly withdrawn
 from Sunday's vote - but only verbally, not formally by letter.
 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. Critics have said the method used to
calculate which candidates would go to the second round, which gave
Aristide candidates 16 of 19 contested seats in the 27-seat
 Senate, were unfair. 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. For 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 other 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. 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.