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#3686: Haitian opposition claims ruling party controls polls (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Haitian opposition claims ruling party controls polls
May 17, 2000
Web posted at: 7:53 PM EDT (2353 GMT)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- As Haiti prepared for long-awaited
legislative and municipal elections, opposition parties Wednesday complained
of illegal control of thousands of polling sites by the ruling Lavalas
Family party.
"The thing that really concerns us is that the vast majority of voting
offices is controlled by Lavalas Family," said Micha Gaillard,
Port-au-Prince mayoral candidate for the coalition Espace de Concertation
Gaillard said despite the rise in political violence and intimidation of
candidates -- armed men brandished weapons in front of his house Tuesday --
fraud was his party's main concern.
More than 11,000 polling sites have been set up throughout this Caribbean
nation, where some 4 million registered voters are expected to cast ballots
Sunday in the first round of elections. Candidates are required to get 51
percent of the vote in the area where they stand, or they must participate
in run-off elections set for June 25.
Haiti has been ruled by dictators for much of its 200-year history and
elections, though rare, have commonly been rigged. The results of Haiti's
last election -- legislative and municipal voting in 1997 -- were annulled
due to fraud.
The Espace and other parties estimated that in 80 to 90 percent of cases,
polling office personnel were linked to the Lavalas Family party of former
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But Lavalas Family spokesman and Senate
candidate Yvon Neptune called the allegations "unfounded."
"Maybe in certain areas there may be certain imbalance, but to go as far as
to say a political party controls the voting offices -- I don't think so,"
Neptune said.
Some 200 international and 30,000 domestic observers will be deployed
throughout Haiti to oversee voting on Sunday.
"We have had denunciations from several political parties," said Mary
Durran, spokeswoman for the Organization of American States observer mission
in Haiti. "It doesn't seem to us that one party is controlling all the
voting offices.".
In what are widely considered the country's first free elections, Aristide
was voted into office in 1991. He was toppled seven months later but
restored to power in 1994 by a U.S.-led invasion. He was succeeded by his
close friend Rene Preval in 1996.
Sunday's elections will fill several thousand empty posts nationwide,
including the parliament, which Preval dissolved to in January 1999 to end a
political impasse.