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#1104: Key vote planned in Haiti, but it may not take place (fwd)


Posted at 11:43 p.m. EST Wednesday, November 24, 1999 
 Key vote planned in Haiti, but it may not take place-------

 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- With a government crippled by political paralysis for
more than two years and no parliament since January, Haitians are
scheduled to vote March 19 in long-delayed elections seen as critical
for the country's future.  Every elected position in Haiti is at stake
except the presidency and eight Senate seats.  ``These elections are not
only important, they are essential . . . the only thing that can save
Haiti from further destabilization,'' Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp
said.  ``We have in Haiti only nine people who can claim to have a
mandate; the president and eight senators,'' Longchamp said. ``That is
to say, the democratic institutions are not working, and those that are
working are not working with a clearly defined mandate given through
elections by the population.''  As important as they are, there is no
guarantee elections will be held as scheduled. They were to have been
held in late 1998. They were then tentatively scheduled for November and
December of this year.


 Now, a first round is set for March 19 and a second for April 30, but
security and organizational concerns make ``meaningful'' elections
questionable.  There have already been several violent and disruptive
incidents, some directly related to elections, others apparently not. 
 There is a widespread belief that former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide would prefer to have the parliamentary elections combined with
the presidential election in December 2000, even though his Lavalas
Family party is gearing up for a vote in March.  Although Aristide
hasn't formally announced, most Haitians and members of the
international community are convinced that he will be a candidate for
the presidency and the likely winner. A combined election would give him
the ``coattail'' advantage for parliamentary elections.


 Without it, his control of Parliament is less certain. Some observers
conjecture that the Lavalas party is employing a two-track policy of
preparing for March elections but doing what it can to force a
postponement, hoping for a combined election later.  Some of the
disruptive activities have been carried out by protesters claiming to
 be Aristide supporters. The most notable was Oct. 24, when
demonstrators sprayed electoral officials from urine-filled bottles to
break up a ceremony in a gymnasium kicking off a civic education
campaign.  Aristide has yet to distance himself from any of the
disruptive actions carried out by so-called popular organizations in his
name.  Yvon Neptune, the Lavalas Family spokesman, dismisses accusations
that the party is responsible for such disruptions, saying opponents
``always do that and they continue to do that [blame Lavalas].'' 
 ``I am concerned Aristide would like to have the March elections
delayed,'' said Gerard Pierre-Charles, secretary general of the
Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL), probably the
best-organized opposition party.


 ``Aristide is not well organized enough and his midlevel leaders not
confident enough. He knows that there will be a democratic
[non-Aristide] majority in Parliament. That is why they are trying to
stop [March] elections and have them held at the same time as
presidential elections,'' said Pierre-Charles, a former Aristide
supporter.  Neptune rejects such talk as coming from a ``small group
intent on blocking the process which is rooted in Dec. 19, 1990 (the
date of Aristide's overwhelming election to the presidency).  . . . They
see Family Lavalas as the devil, but the general population sees what
they represent . . . how they want to share power without having to
undergo an election.''  The more obvious obstacles to meaningful
elections in March are the general climate of insecurity and the
organizational task confronting the Provisional Election Council (CEP). 

 By most accounts, the nine-member CEP is neutral enough to be
acceptable to all parties, although its competence in organizing
elections is questioned in some quarters.  Registration of candidates
began last week for 19 Senate seats, all 83 seats in the Chamber of
Deputies, 535 mayors and thousands of other local candidates.
 Only a handful of people registered within the first 10 days. The cost
of registration and campaigning is thought to have discouraged many
potential candidates.


 Registration will begin in January of up to 4.5 million registered
voters, all to receive photo identification cards. It is a monumental
task, given the rudimentary infrastructure in most rural areas of Haiti.
 ``The biggest problem, not only for us but for everybody, is
security,'' Debussy Damier, vice president of the CEP, said in an
interview. ``People could be afraid to go out and register and vote
because of that.''  ``I hope that everything will be all right,'' said
Damier, an orthopedic surgeon, ``because the nine members of the CEP are
ready to carry out elections without having to postpone them.'' 
 As a member of the CEP, Damier said, his post ``requires [that] I be
confident, but people in general might be concerned and that might
create a problem.''