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#4565: Aristide party's victory a foregone conclusion (fwd)


Published Monday, July 10, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News 
 Aristide party's victory a foregone conclusion

 BY MARK FINEMAN  Los Angeles Times 

 CORNILLON, Haiti -- There were no poll watchers. There were no
opposition parties. There was no  opposition candidate. And no
opposition voters could be found.The only voices audible belonged to
Haiti's ruling Lavalas Family: local election officials, party workers
and other loyalists of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who
proclaimed the onetime Roman Catholic priest's party ``a heavenly
spirit'' and its victories a ``message that made God smile.''

Final phase of elections

  That's how Haiti held its second and final round of national       
elections Sunday in the isolated precincts of this dusty,mountainside
town -- and indeed, throughout much of the impoverished country --
ending an attempt at democracy that the  U.S. State Department last week
called ``incomplete and  inadequate'' before it even began. Haiti
shrugged off harsh criticism from Washington, the United Nations, France
and Canada -- along with formal boycotts by all opposition parties and
international poll watchers, who concluded that the May 21 first round
was flawed, unfair and even illegal.The government defiantly pushed
through the last phase of a vote  that is likely to render the Caribbean
nation a virtual one-party state.Official results from Sunday's runoff
for just over half the 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the
legislature's lower house, will not be known for about a week. Turnout
was vastly lower than the 55 percent who voted in May. But most analysts
said the final outcome of the long-delayed two-step balloting -- which
cost American taxpayers $23 million to stage on top of a $2.3 billion,  
U.S.-led military intervention to restore democracy in Haiti -- was    a
foregone conclusion. Even before Sunday's vote, Aristide's party had won
an overwhelming majority of the nation's Senate seats and municipal
governments after a campaign marked by killings and intimidation       
and a first-round ballot count that the nation's chief election        
official said violated Haitian electoral law.So contentious was that
counting method -- and so determined was the government of Aristide's
handpicked successor,President Rene Preval, to use it -- that former
Election Commission President Leon Manus not only resigned but also    
fled the country in fear for his life.`At the top governmental level,
unequivocal messages were transmitted to me on the consequences that
would follow if I refused to publish the false final results,'' Manus
declared in a statement after arriving on U.S. soil last month.      
``This situation left me no other choice but to temporarily leave    
the country to avoid the worst and restrain the storm.''

Storm of protest

 But a storm of protest did ensue, from Washington and other key    
capitals that will determine whether Haiti's newly elected government
should receive more than $500 million in desperately needed
international aid. The grants and loans were frozen when Preval
dissolved parliament and began ruling by decree 18 months ago.The
Organization of American States, which was authorized to monitor the
elections, announced its boycott of Round 2 on Friday. So did all the
key opposition parties. And also last week,senior U.S. State Department
officials strongly hinted that Haiti could well be denied the future
financial assistance if the first-round votes are not recounted, a
prospect that Preval himself has ruled out. Beyond the international
largess at stake for Aristide, who is widely expected to run and win a
presidential election later this year, there is his image as a populist
Democrat. He was Haiti's first freely elected president, overthrown in a
1991 military coup and returned to office by the U.S. military in 1994.
At the front lines of Sunday's vote, though, none of Aristide's        
party faithful seemed to care what anyone outside Haiti was     
thinking.`I believe Haiti is its own country. We have our own culture,
our own way of doing things,'' said Frantz Saurel Douze, the  supervisor
of a hillside polling booth of wood and straw overlooking the town
center. Douze, who is also the first cousin of the boycotting opposition
candidate for deputy from Cornillon, added: ``I think the Lavalas party
has a heavenly spirit, and even though Haitian people are illiterate,
they're not stupid. . . . We're Haitians. Haitians can solve their own