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5992: Turnout light in Aristide bid for Haiti's presidency (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 09:57:49 -0500
From: nozier@tradewind.net
To: Robert Corbett <corbetre@webster.edu>
Subject: Turnout light in Aristide bid for Haiti's presidency

Published Monday, November 27, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
Turnout light in Aristide bid for Haiti's presidency
Backers cite boycott, bombings; critics say he will lack mandate

 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Voters in Haiti turned out in small numbers Sunday in
a presidential election that former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was
expected to win even as international observers and opposition parties
boycotted the event. In large measure, the election was considered a
referendum on Aristide's popularity. But the combined effect of a
lackluster campaign with a foregone conclusion and a weeklong series of
mysterious bombings resulted in relatively few Haitians going to the
polls, and Aristide's critics were quick to claim that he
 would have no mandate. The turnout was light throughout the city, from
the posh suburbs to the slums, unlike previous elections that saw voters
wait for hours in the sweltering heat before they could pick up a ballot
and drop it in a cardboard box. In some sections of this city of two
million, most people seem to have stayed home, except children in poor
neighborhoods who took over the empty streets to set up soccer matches.
Radio stations monitoring the elections in provincial towns also
reported weak turnouts. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamps,
who spent the day in his office monitoring the elections after voting
earlier that morning, declared the process a success. ``The people who
have gone out have shown faith and courage,'' he said. ``Whether [only]
1 percent of the people voted, the elections took place. I believe
 the turnout was a result of the intimidation that took place all week
and the fact that there was no challenge.' Aristide himself voted near
his home in Tabarre, emerging afterward to give supporters a thumbs-up
sign showing a thumb stained with purple ink, an identification mark
used in the voting process. Results are expected within two days, but
celebrations of an Aristide victory began early in Cité Soleil, a poor
neighborhood considered a bastion of support for the former president.
 Groups of partisans took to the narrow streets by midmorning, chanting
``Victory' and ``Aristide or death.' Aristide was the overwhelming
favorite over three largely unknown rivals. Haitians also voted for nine
senators, and Aristide's Lavalas Family party is believed likely
 to dominate the balloting for them as well. Even so, Aristide's foes
were quick to cite the poor turnout as a sign that he lacks popular
support. Rosny Desroches, a former minister of education and the leader
of a Haitian foundation for private education, estimated the turnout at
less than 10 percent of the country's 4.2 million voters.
 ``This has been a day of truth,'' Desroches said. ``Today the myth of
Aristide has been broken. This leader represented the hope of the masses
and a symbol of democracy, but it's clear he is no longer their idol.
Their message is that they are still looking for hope and they have been
disillusioned.'' Fear of dying did not stop Haitians from voting in
1987, he said, when they dodged bullets to vote for leaders who
represented hope at the time. ``Today they didn't go out,'' he said.
``That tells you something.' Despite the light turnout, President René
Preval, elected after Aristide's first term and widely viewed as his
hand-picked successor, praised the voting as an event of historic
importance. He said it signified a break with Haiti's ``tradition of
coups d'etat.' ``For the first time since the 1987 Constitution was
approved, we have a presidential election on the constitutionally
specified date, the last Sunday in November in the fifth year of a
president's five-year term,'' Preval said as he left a voting booth near
the presidential residence. About 15 opposition groups, united in an
alliance known as Democratic Convergence, boycotted the elections,
charging that the ballot-counting system used in legislative elections
in May and July was inadequate. The alliance declined to present a
candidate in the presidential race, claiming that the vote would be open
to the same kind of abuses that it says distorted the earlier votes in
favor of Aristide's party. An important test of Aristide's plans for
Haiti, analysts say, will be whether he brings the opposition and other
elements of civil society around a table and includes them in a national
government of reconciliation, or whether the opposition will pull back
and begin to oppose him more vigorously. Jacques St. Louis showed up
Sunday at the Argentine Bellegarde school to vote in the same polling
station where his brother was gunned down in 1987 when he came to vote.
 ``Every time I vote, I think about him,'' he said. ``I'm voting for
him, for security, for hope.'' 

 This report was supplemented by Herald wire services.