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#2946: Tired of crisis, Haitians demand election (fwd)


WIRE:03/21/2000 16:51:00 ET
 ANALYSIS-Tired of crisis, Haitians demand election
 PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 21 (Reuters) - The repeated postponement of
legislative elections in Haiti has frustrated  voters, wounded an
already abysmal economy and raised new fears  of political crisis      
in a country that established democracy only  in the last decade.    
"The time has come to get the country out of this crisis,"  said Guy
Alexandre, former Haitian ambassador to the Dominican  Republic and
general coordinator of the nonpartisan group  DemocraticInitiative,
which was set up to press for timely elections and restoration of
democratic institutions, including  parliament.It is absolutely
necessary to push for a resolution that will restart the electoral
process, and to have two separate  elections this year -- the first one
as soon as possible."  Hundreds of protesters marched in the southern
city of Les  Cayes on Monday and called for President Rene         
Preval to resign  if a new parliament is not seated by June, as
constitutionally  mandated.  Preval dissolved parliament 14 months ago
and has ruled the  Caribbean nation by decree ever since.  Elections
were planned for late 1998, delayed to late 1999,  then set for March
19. Two weeks ago, the Provisional Electoral  Council (CEP) pushed back
the date to April 9 due to problems  registering Haiti's more than four
million voters.  Preval cancelled the elections and refused to approve 
the  new date. His government called for an investigation into voter 
registration, which has been marred by theft of registration  materials
and rampant fraud.Critics called Preval's split with the CEP a political
strategy to delay legislative elections until the end of the  year, when
they could be combined with presidential elections.  Preval is tied to
the Lavalas Family party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who
is expected to  win the  presidency. With the two elections held       
together, Aristide  partisans could ride to victory on his coat tails.  
 "We don't understand what happened between Preval and the  CEP who were
getting along so nicely --suddenly there is a  split. We wonder if it is
a real split  or a political tactic,"  said Jean-Lavaud Frederick, a   
member of one of the country's  largest teachers unions. If they don't
want to have elections, they have to pretend  there is some kind of
dispute," said Frederick.              
Aristide, a former priest and the country's first freely elected leader,
was restored to power in 1994 by a U.S.-led  military invasion to
overthrow an army regime. When his term  ended, Aristide handed power  
to Preval.  International pressure for elections mounted last week.    
The  Organisation of American States called on Preval to set a new 
election date as soon as possible. The European Union said aid  to Haiti
was contingent on the restoration of all national  institutions.       
"If there is no election, we will have to evaluate our projects and
programmes here. This is not a threat or blackmail  it is just the
reality of the international organisations,"  Canadian Ambassador Gilles
Bernier told Reuters. More than $300 million in World Bank loans and
International  Development Bank funds are stalled  because there is no 
parliament to ratify them. "The role of parliament in mobilising badly
needed concessionary loans is very, very important," Michael Azefor, 
the World Bank representative in Haiti, told Reuters.  More than $100
million in interest-free World Bank  loans to  Haiti for health,
education, and rural development projects has  been on hold for nearly 
three years.  "They need a major injection of investment money --     
money  that builds schools, build roads, builds health centres, pulls a 
lot of the unemployed off the streets  and into productive  work,"
Azefor said.  Haiti's annual per capita income is estimated at $410    
and  its unemployment rate is well above 60 percent.  Those are the
reasons that even though the World Bank is  not per se interested in
elections, we are very keen to see that  these elections take place as
quickly as possible because  further lending from us is 100            
percent dependent on a  functioning Haitian parliament," Azefor said.  
The political crisis has fuelled a rise in inflation which had
stabilised at 7 percent annually and now tops 10 percent.  
The value of the Haitian gourde has dropped to 21.5 gourdes  to the U.S.
dollar since Preval cancelled elections without  setting a new date. The
gourde had stabilised at 16 to the  dollar for about three years but  
sank as election doubts grew.  Economists say that unless Preval sets an
election  date, the  gourde will continue to plunge.  "The solution is
not economic, it's political," Kesner Pharel, of the economic consulting
firm Groupe Croissance, said.  "The market will be very nervous as     
long as Preval waits to  announce anything."