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5994: Haiti Casts Ballots, Preparing the Way for Aristide Encore , (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

November 27, 2000
Haiti Casts Ballots, Preparing the Way for Aristide Encore

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov. 26 ? The hardest-fought contests on the   
morning of the presidential election today were not inside the polls but
on the barricaded streets of the capital. Throughout many parts of the 
city, eager groups of youngsters played soccer while a mere trickle of
voters went to cast ballots in an election that many assumed would be
won by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who  faced no serious challengers after
the opposition announced a boycott. Mr. Aristide, who became this
Caribbean nation's first democratically elected president in 1990, was
on the cusp of returning to power in an election that has posed a
quandary for the international community and the United States, who have
expressed grave reservations  about the legitimacy of both the vote
today and the fairness of the May legislative election,which gave Mr.
Aristide's party,Lavalas, an overwhelming majority in Parliament.
 After he was ousted in a military coup in 1991, Mr. Aristide returned
victoriously from exile three years later behind a 20,000-member
American-led invasion force to serve out his truncated term. While the 
outside donor countries have grown frustrated and impatient with the
political deadlock here between Lavalas and the opposition, his
supporters have endowed Mr. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest,
with an almost mythic, messianic resonance and have waited for this day
to return him to the  Presidential Palace. "Everything is going to be
all right," said Reginald Colon, a poll worker in the St.-Martin       
neighborhood, where polls at a local hospital were nearly deserted at
midday. "We are here to do one job for one person, Aristide. He is the
hope after God. He is the one we believe in after God. He is the one who
can do something." Mr. Aristide cast his ballot this afternoon at a
school not too far from his walled residence in Tabarre, a
Port-au-Prince suburb, while armed private guards and the police
patrolled on the roof. Electoral officials said voter turnout was light
at first but increased by midday. Domestic observer groups estimated
that turnout could reach 60 percent, the same figure as in the
legislative elections, but polling places seemed empty today in
comparison. Almost no independent estimate of voter turnout was
available,because no international and domestic observers from the
previous election took part in this election because of serious
reservations over the vote counting method used the last time. 
Radio reports estimated that the turnout was below 10 percent, and
visits to several polling places that last May had lines of people
snaking outside indicated a similarly small turnout by late morning. 
The International Coalition of Electoral Observers, a group of 24
American observers from religious and solidarity groups, said they
had seen at least a 15 percent turnout in most neighborhoods and as
many as 50 percent in the poor areas that are Mr. Aristide's
strongholds. There were also radio reports of a higher turnout in
some cities outside of Port-au-Prince.
Although two pipe bombs exploded early in the morning, the day
was mostly calm and there were no reports of fatalities.
Poll workers in many places admitted that the turnout was lower than
 official estimates, but said they expected more people to come after
 church or later in the day. Other poll workers said that perhaps
 people were waiting to see if there was any violence, but outside
 the streets were filled with people shopping or children playing.