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5999: Aristide's Apparent Win In Haiti Marred By Voter Apathy (fwd)

From: "BriceWebb, Carline" <CBriceWebb@oas.org>

November 26, 2000
Dow Jones Newswires
Aristide's Apparent Win In Haiti Marred By Voter Apathy
Dow Jones Newswires
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)--No one here doubts that controversial and
charismatic Jean-Bertrand Aristide has won Haiti's presidential election
-but it could be something of a hollow victory in a contest marred by
violence, voter apathy and an opposition boycott.
Aristide's mandate could be severely hobbled by an apparently low turnout in
Sunday's vote. Amid chaos typical of Haitian elections, however, there were
strong disagreements between rivals about the actual voter turnout.
Although polls were to close at 5 p.m., many shut down earlier after hours
of inactivity. Partial results were not expected before Monday -but
Aristide's victory over a field of six unknowns, who didn't campaign for
fear of attack, was considered a foregone conclusion.
The main opposition parties charged that the election was the final chapter
in a years-long campaign of intimidation and manipulation aimed at restoring
the former priest to power after he was forced to step down in 1996 due to a
constitutional ban on consecutive terms.
Throughout the campaign, Aristide himself never attended a single rally,
relying on staunch supporters and promises broadcast on radio and television
to bring "peace of mind, peace in the belly" to Haitians plagued by hunger
and insecurity.
On Sunday, defying widespread cynicism about his intentions and ignoring
claims that he would establish a dictatorship, Aristide voted and declared
the elections a "a rendezvous with peace" and a "vote for peace for all
But -despite some claims to the contrary by officials -turnout throughout
the nation of 8 million seemed paltry.
This "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?"
The electoral council, which opponents charge is loaded with Aristide
partisans, claimed 60.5% of the 4 million-plus registered voters
But even Premier Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who supports Aristide, admitted to
a "timid" turnout in the capital, where a rash of bombings continued with
two explosions during Sunday's vote, injuring one man slightly. Still Alexis
claimed Haitians voted massively in the more peaceful countryside -a claim
contradicted by the accounts of dozens of reporters in the field.
Only 5,000 of 200,000 eligible people had voted in the Northwest District
eight hours after ballot stations opened, electoral officials told Radio
Galaxie. In Cite Soleil, one of the Port-au-Prince slums in which Aristide
built his political base in the 1980s, bored electoral officials shut voting
stations hours early. Only three people voted during one hour in Tabarre, a
stronghold of the Lavalas Family party where Aristide lives reclusively
behind high walls, protected by heavily armed American bodyguards.
When electoral council officials in Port-au-Prince on Sunday afternoon
announced "strong participation," an amazed Radio Metropole commentator
exclaimed: "I have no words -there are no crowds!"
Opposition leader Herve Denis, once an Aristide ally, declared "They take
the people for idiots ... They have hallucinated the results."
The situation was in stark contrast to the ecstatic wave of support that
first swept Aristide to power 11 years ago. But Haitians have since become
increasingly disenchanted with their floundering democracy, an experiment
that produced an endlessly squabbling tangle of political parties fighting
for power and left many as poor and hungry as ever.
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. About
a year later, the constitutional limitation forced him to hand over the
reigns to his hand-picked successor, incumbent Rene Preval.
Suspicions that Aristide is manipulating the process to establish a
dictatorship have cost him many of the friends who helped propel him to
"This is not an election: it's a consecration -one that will bring Haiti an
illegitimate president who will set up an illegitimate government," charged
former ally Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a peasant leader who described Sunday's
elections as "practically the death of democracy."
Nine senators also were to be elected Sunday, and Aristide's Lavalas Family
party was expected to make a clean sweep. In a May vote questioned by the
United States and other countries, Lavalas won 17 of 18 Senate seats and 80%
of the House of Assembly.
Luigi Enaudi, assistant secretary-general of the Organization of American
States, warned earlier this month that the international community may
abandon its multibillion-dollar effort to promote democracy in Haiti if the
election proceeds despite the opposition boycott.
"There's no point in throwing good money after bad," he said.