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#3669: Haiti prepares for legislative elections (fwd)


WIRE:05/16/2000 17:25:00 ET
Haiti prepares for legislative elections                                

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - With five days to go before  Haiti's first
elections in more than three years,political  parties scrambled Tuesday
to  organize last-minute campaigns for legislative and municipal seats.
"It's going strong," Yvon Neptune,senate candidate for  the ruling
 Lavalas Family, told Reuters.In the streets around the capital and in
the suburb of  Petionville, organizers mostly of the Lavalas Family    
party  posted bright new banners from lamp posts and  trees and 
plastered city walls with candidate posters.  For weeks Port-au-Prince
hardly seemed to be a city in the  midst of election campaigns.
Political parties said they had run  out of funds months ago, when    
legislative and municipal  elections were scheduled for March 19. The
new date was set for  May 21 with runoffs on June 25.  Officials
postponed the vote for logistical reasons.  But opposition parties have
long accused Lavalas Family,  founded by former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, of trying to  push off elections until November, when Aristide
is expected to  run for president.  They said this would help benefit
members of Aristide's  party to gain control of parliament and         
municipalities.  Aristide, Haiti's first freely-elected president, was
toppled by the military in 1991. The U.S. led an international  invasion
to restore Aristide in 1994.   A slew of political killings -- more than
a dozen in the past six weeks -- had pushed candidates indoors and     
made voters  wary, fearing more election violence.  Many Haitians are
indifferent to the power struggles fought  among their leaders. They say
they care less about who controls  what post and more about job        
creation and the cost of living.  "We hope the elections will help
develop the country. We  can't find work, we can't afford anything,"
said Benoit Nowe,  who was digging a ditch to construct a             
house on the Panamerican  road connecting Petionville to the capital.In
a country where the average per capita income is slightly  over $400 and
where an already catastrophic economy has  worsened, elections offer
hope for change.But Nowe, like most Haitians, did not know for whom
he will  vote, nor could he say what any political party represented.  
  "Whoever I see has the most votes that's the one I'll vote  for," he
said matter-of-factly, standing barefoot.  Four million voters are
eligible to cast ballots on Sunday  and choose among 29,000 candidates
to fill thousands of posts.Thirty-year-old Wilfrid Leas sat idly no the
side of the street. He said he planned to vote because he wanted  to
find a  job. But he said he did not know who he would vote for.  
 "On Sunday, I'll just go and check a box for someone."Opposition
members say campaigning has been unfairly tilted in favor of Lavalas
Family, who have much greater resources."The biggest difference is that
they have a lot more money -- they have the resources of the state --
and the democratic  camp doesn't have any," Gerard Pierre-Charles of
the  Organization of People in Struggle, said.  Neptune disagreed.
"Basically whatever we do,we get from  our members and our friends," he
said,adding that parties like OPL lacked the popular backing of Lavalas
Family. Numerous politicians expressed fears elections will be rigged.
Haiti's last legislative election, in April 1997 was annulled due to
widespread fraud. The Organization of American States was expected to 
deploy  more than 200 foreign observers around Haiti and about 30,000 
national observers were also expected to monitor the vote.