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#4559: Low Turnout for Second Round of Haitian Vote (fwd)


Sunday July 9 4:36 PM ET  Low Turnout for Second Round of Haitian Vote

 By Trenton Daniel

 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti held the second round on Sunday of
elections set to hand victory to the ruling party of former president
Jean-Bertrand Aristide but marred by strong criticism at home and abroad
of the way the result of the first round of voting in May was
calculated. Radio Metropole, an independent station, said turnout by
midday was low as voting took place without international observers and
amid an opposition boycott. But the election council said turnout was
high. The council also reported that voting was delayed by a day in two
southern towns near the coastal city of Jacmel because voting material
failed to turn up on time.The parliamentary and municipal elections in
the Caribbean nation had been viewed as a key step as Haiti, the poorest
country in the Americas, struggles to build democratic institutions
after decades of dictatorship and military rule. But the Organization of
American States, which monitored the first round vote on May 21, pulled
out of observing the second round on Friday after weeks of trying to
 persuade the government of President Rene Preval to recalculate the
results. Most opposition parties have said they are boycotting the
second round of voting in the nation of 7.5 million people, which shares
the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. But the names of
opposition candidates remained on ballot sheets in run-off votes between
the two best-placed candidates from the May 21 vote. Critics said that
although Aristide's ruling Family Lavalas party was set to win the
 elections, the method used to calculate the first round gave Lavalas
more outright victories in the Senate than it was due -- 16 out of the
19 Senate seats up for election. Candidates needed a simple majority to
avoid a second-round run-off. Despite the criticism, the country's
electoral council said polling stations opened throughout Haiti on
Sunday morning. ``Everything's in place, and everything's running
smoothly. All the bureaus are open,'' Frantz Faustin, a spokesperson for
the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Faustin said a few polling
stations did not open on time. He said later that ``we have a massive
turnout in rural areas. Everything's going fine.'' Turnout was 60
percent in the May vote, the first elections in Haiti in three years.
 Sunday's election, for which many anticipated a low voter turnout, aims
to fill 46 seats in the 83-member lower house, the Chamber of Deputies,
from constituencies throughout the country save for the capital and the
Grand Anse department, for which official results have not been
released. Grand Anse, which did not vote with the rest of the nation in
May, held its election on June 11. In the first round, Lavalas won 26 of
the lower house seats, and most of the mayoral posts. Announcing its
pull-out on Friday, the OAS said it would not observe the second round
because the final results for the Senate as proclaimed by the CEP were
 ``incorrect'' and the mission could not ``consider them either accurate
or fair.'' Echoing its withdrawal from the controversial re-election of
President Alberto Fujimori in Peru in May, the OAS said it was forced to
suspend its observer mission in Haiti because the principle of
one-person, one-vote had been violated. In the wake of the May vote,
three out of the nine members of the CEP quit, saying they could not
approve the results, including CEP President Leon Manus who left
 the country saying he felt his life was threatened.The United States
also criticized the government for not holding runoffs of the
 flawed Senate races on Sunday. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest
who was Haiti's first freely elected president, is widely expected to
run for and win the presidency later this year. A U.S.-led invasion
force of 20,000 troops restored Aristide in 1994 after a military coup
ousted him in 1991. Haiti's government has been paralyzed for most of
the past three years after parliamentary elections held in April 1997
were declared fraudulent. Preval, who succeeded Aristide in 1995,
dissolved Parliament in January 1999 and has since ruled by decree.