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#2789: Haitian President Denounces New Election Plan (fwd)


Friday March 10 2:12 AM ET 
 Haitian President Denounces New Election Plan____ By Jennifer Bauduy

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - President Rene Preval threw Haiti's
troubled election plans into further turmoil Thursday, saying a new date
for a much-postponed vote had been improperly announced by the
 country's independent electoral commission. The commission said on
Wednesday it had set the new date for the elections, postponed from
March 19, for April 9, with a run-off on May 21. But Preval said the
commission had no authority to announce a new date without presidential
approval. His intervention cast fresh doubt on the elections in Haiti.
The poorest country in the Americas has been struggling to shake the
legacy of decades of dictatorships and establish democratic institutions
five years after a U.S. military invasion aimed at restoring political
order. ``The electoral law states that the election date is established
by presidential decree ... This morning, I heard that there is a press
communique which I don't have, which speaks of a new date,'' Preval told
reporters. ``I think that it is a minimum of courtesy that before such a
decision is taken, the executive should be informed,'' Preval said. He
was speaking at Haiti's international airport just before leaving on a
24-hour visit to Guadeloupe for a meeting of Caribbean leaders with
French President Jacques Chirac. Opposition groups called for Preval's
resignation. ``This shows that he wants to stay a dictator, and to
continue governing without a parliament,'' said Gerard Pierre-Charles,
leader of the opposition Organization of People in Struggle party.
 ``He is trying to force the CEP to resign,'' Pierre-Charles told
Reuters. He was referring to the nine-member Provisional Electoral
Council (CEP), a body that was largely appointed by Preval and is
supposed to be an independent group charged with organizing elections.
 Preval dissolved parliament in January of last year on the grounds that
the terms of two-thirds of the Senate and all of the Chamber of Deputies
had expired, and he has been ruling by decree since then. The results of
Haiti's last elections, in April 1997, were annulled because of fraud.
 The forthcoming legislative and municipal elections have been postponed
three times already: with dates in November and December last year and
March 19 scratched. In recent months, the hitches have centered on
chaotic efforts to register the country's more than four million
 voters. Announcing the new date for the legislative and municipal
elections on Wednesday, the CEP said it had postponed the voting to
allow all eligible voters a chance to register. The statement said the
decision was ``irreversible.'' According to the Organization of American
States, at least 30 percent of Haiti's voters have been unable to
 register. The voter registration process has been marked by frequent
protests over insufficient voter registration offices and lack of
materials to make voter identity cards. Film and laminated materials to
make voter cards ran out due to waste, theft, fraud and arson.
 In his comments on Thursday, Preval called for an investigation into
the disappearance of voter materials including more than 200 voter
registries in Haiti's Artibonite department. The elections are to fill
all elected posts including seats in the national parliament.