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5991: Aristide's Return Near Certain (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Monday November 27 2:34 AM ET
Aristide's Return Near Certain 
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - No one here doubts that charismatic
 Jean-Bertrand Aristide has won Haiti's presidential election, but the
strength of his mandate was far less clear after a contest marred by
violence, voter apathy and an opposition boycott.
While partial results were not expected before Monday, the former
priest's victory Sunday over a field of six unknowns, who did not
campaign for fear of attack, was considered a foregone conclusion.
The main opposition parties said the election was the final chapter in a
yearslong campaign of intimidation and manipulation aimed at restoring
the former president after he stepped down in 1996 because of a
constitutional ban on consecutive terms.``This is not an election, it's
a consecration - one that will bring Haiti an illegitimate president who
will set up an illegitimate government,'' said one former ally,
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. Opponents said low voter turnout would make
Aristide's triumph a hollow one. The electoral council, which opponents
charge is loaded with Aristide supporters, claimed 60.5 percent of more
than 4 million registered voters participated.  But Premier
Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who supports Aristide, said turnout was
``timid'' in the capital, where a rash of bombings continued with two 
explosions Sunday, injuring one man slightly. In Cite Soleil, one of the
Port-au-Prince slums where Aristide built his political base in the
1980s, electoral officials shut voting stations hours early for a lack
of customers.Only three people voted in a one-hour period in Tabarre,
where Aristide lives behind high walls.Alexis said turnout was far
stronger in the more peaceful countryside, a claim contradicted by
reporter accounts. Only 5,000 of 200,000 eligible voters had cast
ballots in the Northwest District eight hours after polling stations
opened, electoral officials told Radio Galaxie.The turnout ``exploded
the myth of Aristide's popularity,'' said former President Leslie
Manigat. ``How can he be popular if he can't mobilize the people to vote
for him?'' Widespread apathy was a stark contrast to the ecstatic wave
of support  that first swept Aristide to power 11 years ago. Since then,
a floundering democracy has produced an endlessly squabbling tangle of
political parties fighting for power and left many as poor and hungry as
ever. ``Whether you vote or not, it doesn't make any difference,'' said
Sauveur Jean-Baptiste, a 70-year-old plumber. ``The people we are
voting for are nothing but fat cats.' Aristide never attended a rally
during the campaign. He instead relied on staunch supporters and
broadcast promises to bring ``peace of mind, peace in the belly.''
With supporters chanting ``Aristide or death,'' he cast his vote Sunday
and rejected widespread claims that he would establish a dictatorship.
 He called the elections a ``vote for peace for all Haitians.''
 Many who did vote favored Aristide.``I'm happy because I'm voting for
my president,'' said Jesumene Duvelglas, an unemployed mother of three
in Cite Soleil. ``We're goingto have a better life. The cost of living
is going to get lower. We will have security.' Aristide, Haiti's first
freely elected president, was toppled in a 1991 military coup and
restored to power after a U.S.-led invasion in 1994. Forced out in 1996
by term limits, he handed the reins to his hand-picked successor, Rene
Preval, the incumbent in Sunday's vote.Aristide's Lavalas Family party
was expected to win the nine Senate seats also up for grabs Sunday. In a
May vote questioned by the United States and other countries, Lavalas
won 17 of 18 Senate seats and 80 percent of the House of Assembly.
 Luigi Enaudi, assistant secretary-general of the Organization of
American States, warned this month that the international community
might abandon its multibillion-dollar effort to promote democracy in
Haiti if the election proceeded despite the opposition boycott.