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#4566: Few Haitians Turn Out for Runoff Election (fwd)


July 10, 2000 Few Haitians Turn Out for Runoff Election

  INT-MARC, Haiti, July 9 -- In a runoff election shunned by opposition
candidates and international observers, a handful of Haitians voted    
today for the few legislative and local offices that were not      
already won by Lavalas bloc, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide.  The low turnout came after opposition parties and
international groups protested questionable first-round  results on May
21, which they said relied on an inaccurate vote count that gave
outright victories to many Lavalas candidates,including 18 of 19 Senate 
seats. When Haitian officials refused to reconsider requests        
that eight of those seats be determined in a runoff,opposition parties
and observer groups refused to take part.  "We do not think they should
allow the process to go forward as if nothing had happened," Orlando
Marville, the leader of the Organization of American States electoral
mission, said on Friday. "Fundamentally, if they say they are not going
to change it, we cannot accept it as valid. This changes the whole
nature of the elections. We are at the position where to observe the
elections would send the wrong signal, which we do not want to do."    
Unlike the first round, when thousands of voters lined up for hours,  
today's election held little excitement or suspense. In many
cities,including Port-au-Prince, the capital, there were no runoff
elections because all elections had been decided, in the first round.
Elsewhere, people assumed Lavalas would continue its sweep. In
Saint-Marc, polling station workers spent the early morning dozing while
waiting for voters to trickle in. Many residents of this town two hours
north of Port-au-Prince said they were not bothering to take part
because they felt the process had been set up to favor Lavalas.        
"What election?" said Marcial D'Orleans, an undertaker who spent       
the morning with some friends sitting in the plaza outside city hall.   
"People heard on television and radio that the first round was a mess.
 Only one party won. So people decided not to vote anymore." The
elections represented a crucial step in restoring a functioning        
government to Haiti, which has not had a Parliament since early 1999.
About $500 million in international aid had been blocked because there
was no legislature to pass authorizations to rebuild roads or other
crumbling public works. The vote was also a test of the drawing power of
Mr. Aristide, who was barred by law from running for a second
consecutive term in the last election but is expected to run again for
president in November without any significant opposition. His party's
sweep of not only the  legislature, but also mayoralties and other local
offices in Haiti's  biggest cities, would prevent his administration
from being mired in the legislative and political challenges that have
crippled the current government of his protégé, President René Préval.
Mr. Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, was ousted
in a military coup seven months after he took office in 1991 and was
restored to power by an American-led invasion force in 1994. He remains
the country's most popular politician.More than 29,000 candidates and 60
percent of the nation's 4 million voters took part in the first round,
and international observers said there had been no gross irregularities
in the voting. Observers said many voters had chosen Lavalas, which had
mounted an aggressive campaign. But soon after the polls closed,
opposition candidates complained that armed groups linked to Lavalas had
burst into some polling places and intimidated workers or made off with
ballot boxes. The next day, about 30 opposition party members were
arrested by the police on charges of inciting to riot or disturbing the
peace with claims of fraud. The charges were later dropped. The crisis
continued when the Provisional Electoral Council released partial
results that gave Lavalas 18 of the 19 Senate seats at stake.Léon Manus,
the council president, refused to sign off on those results and fled the
country, saying he feared for his life. He said he had been under
extreme pressure to confirm the results, which had been determined by
counting only the votes received by the top four candidates for each
post. "The Haitian people turned out in large numbers because they
believed in the process, and that was encouraging," said one Haitian who
was an observer during the first round. "What is discouraging is they
were told their gesture did not count."Lavalas supporters, however, said
the charges were being fueled by opposition candidates who did have
enough support to win at the polls. "Lavalas is strong here," said
Charles Deceres, a Lavalas supporter in Saint-Marc. "Manus resigned
because the other parties insisted  they had people behind them, but
they were wrong." Gérard Pierre Charles, the leader of the Organization
of People in Struggle, a Lavalas splinter group that had led the
legislative opposition, said the government's refusal to let the
contested seats be determined in a runoff was but the latest outrage in
an electoral process that had been dominated by Lavalas. He said Lavalas
supporters held many posts at polling places and had often taken to the
streets in protests after the first round, blocking traffic, burning
tires and promising to disrupt the country if their party did not win.
"A positive aspect of this is it helped put clearly the antidemocratic
project of Aristide," Mr. Pierre Charles said. "These were not
elections, this was a hidden coup. This electoral parody brings about an
absolute control of the state. So we fall into a totalitarian government
with one party rule." That prospect worried some residents of
Saint-Marc, even as they  sat out the elections. "If the problems
continue, we will take a boat to Miami," said Jean Eric, a mason. "Here
there is only one group eating all the food: Lavalas."