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#4627: Haiti Refuses to Back Down on Elections (fwd)


July 16, 2000
Haiti Refuses to Back Down on  Elections  By DAVID GONZALEZ

ORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, July 15-- Haitian officials say they will       
stand by the results of their recent   elections despite threats from 
international donors to suspend aid because of a vote-counting method
they deemed unfair and unacceptable. Asselin Charles, a spokesman for
Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, said outside countries had
misunderstood the  counting method and that the results could not be
changed because elections are the responsibility of the Provisional  
Electoral Council. "The government feels that democracy is a question of
institutions, and the government cannot interfere," he said. The impasse
began after the first round of elections on May 21, when the electoral
council gave a near-total sweep to the candidates of Lavalas Family, the
political party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Electoral
observers criticized the council's tallying method, which, instead of
requiring  candidates to win with an absolute majority, counted only the
votes received by the top four finishers in each race. The count thus
ignored many votes received by minor . The disputed count gave Lavalas
18 of the 19 Senate seats in the first round. Leon Manus, the president
of the electoral council, resigned after the first round and fled the
country, fearing for his life after accusing the government of
pressuring him to approve questionable results. When the Haitian
government refused to recalculate the first-round results, the
Organization of American   States withdrew its election observers for
the runoff last Sunday. The Organization of American States, the
European Community and the United States have been considering what
steps to take, including a suspension of aid, if the Haitian government
seats a new legislature whose legitimacy is questioned. Some $500
million in foreign aid has remained untapped for several years because
of a political deadlock that has left this country without a Parliament
since January of last year. Despite the threats, Haitian officials have
refused to budge, and this week they began to swear in mayors and local
council members. Electoral officials said the vote was fair, and that
more than 30 percent of the electorate voted. Opposition parties, who
boycotted the runoff, said many polling places were ghost towns while
others were reportedly the targets of armed thugs.  "The C.E.P.'s
mission is to run elections transparently and fairly," said Roland
Sainristil, the spokesman for the Provisional Electoral Council, using
its French acronym. "This is what has been done on  May 21, and this is
what we have continued to do, to put in place  democratic institutions." 
Mr. Charles echoed the recent statements of the prime minister when he
said that any suspension of aid would have little impact,since Haiti had
already been grappling with a lack of international aid in recent years. 
"We are ready to use our internal resources to implement national  
programs that the government feels are necessary," he said."Eventually,
the international community will keep explaining what is happening until
Haiti is understood by all."  Critics of the recent elections said they
already understood what was  happening: a consolidation of power by
Lavalas that would culminate in Mr. Aristide's election in November.
They alleged that the voting irregularities were carried out by Lavalas
because it was unsure of its support, even though it was the only party
with any sustained campaign presence. Protests by opposition parties
outside of the capital have resulted in  arrests by police. Calling the
new legislature "illegitimate," they feared worse times ahead.  "We
believe this is a totally irresponsible attitude," said Danile Supplice,
a Senate candidate for the Espace de Concertation party. "What is going
to happen is that Haiti is going to pay for this. We  cannot afford in
the year 2000 to isolate ourselves. It does not make  any sense."