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#3733: Haiti Prepares For Elections (fwd)


Saturday May 20 1:21 AM ET  Haiti Prepares For Elections
 By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press Writer 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Under pressure from Washington and the
United Nations, Haiti at long last will try to hold elections Sunday
that are essential to restoring a  legal government and vital foreign
aid. Disgusted with their politicians and despairing of a seemingly
endless impoverishment,Haitians are eager to cast their ballots: More
than half the population of 8 million is registered to vote. But a
flare-up of political violence, government foot-dragging and the
bumbling preparations of Haiti's elections council could mean trouble
for the legislative and local elections, Haiti's first vote since a
disputed 1997 ballot. Voters' enthusiasm has been doused by fear,
opposition candidates have stopped campaigning and the United States
 and United Nations - which intervened to restore democracy in 1994 and
stop an exodus of Haitian boat people - worry their Haitian experiment
is unraveling. ``By turning out to register in large numbers, Haitians
have demonstrated their commitment to constitutionality and
 to the democratic process,'' U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in
a statement urging Haitians ``to forsake violence and to ensure that
voters may exercise their constitutional right to vote without
intimidation.'' Sunday's turnout will show whether Haitians are
listening - or will give in to fear. ``A lot of people have said, 'Don't
go out Sunday, there's going to be trouble at the  polls,''' said Lucien
Pierre, a 37-year-old schoolteacher. ``So I'm not going to go out.''
Marnitte Jean, a mason, disagreed: ``Not to vote is to throw in the
towel.'' The locus is former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the
former slum priest and president who, as Haiti's most popular
politician, is the central figure of recent Haitian history. Opposition
parties say the elections are being rigged to favor his Lavalas Family
party and set up a dictatorship under Aristide, who few doubt will win
presidential elections planned for November. Aristide lent his
inspiration to a popular uprising that forced the 29-year Duvalier
dictatorship from power in 1986. The military aborted Haiti's first free
elections in 1987, killing voters at polling stations. Undaunted,
millions turned out in 1990 to elect Aristide. Overthrown in a 1991
coup, Aristide was restored to power after the 1994 invasion ousted a
bloody army-backed regime - but was barred by law from seeking a
consecutive term. He picked Rene Preval to succeed him in 1995
 elections and created Lavalas. Preval oversaw a fraud-ridden 1997
legislative vote and created an unconstitutional government by
disbanding Parliament in 1999 and appointing a new premier by decree.
 Sunday's elections - postponed at least four times since 1998 - give
Haitians a chance to right things and, in the process, free $500 million
in desperately needed foreign aid that is on hold until their country is
legally governed. The vote also is a test of Aristide's ability to stock
Parliament and thousands of local government offices with Lavalas
loyalists. A once-ambitious opposition movement wants to prevent that -
but has become increasingly demoralized as the election nears.
 The repeated delays, Preval's endorsement of Lavalas candidates despite
a requirement he be apolitical, attacks on opposition offices by
Aristide supporters and political violence that has killed 15 people -
mostly opposition officials - have forced most non-Lavalas figures to
quit their campaigns. Haiti's U.N.-trained police force has been unable
- or unwilling - to stop the violence. Not one suspect has been
 arrested in any of the attacks, and officers stood and watched as
Aristide supporters set an opposition party office ablaze. ``Short of a
miracle, I don't see how we can have credible elections,'' opposition
politician Evans Paul said after a grenade exploded Thursday at the gate
to the electoral council office, injuring seven passers-by. The attack,
he said, aimed ``to intimidate the independent voter into staying at
home, leaving the field wide open for Aristide partisans.'' Lavalas
Family spokesmen routinely deny the party is behind the violence.
 From afar, aid donors, the United States and the United Nations - which
have invested more than $1 billion in Haiti since the 1994 intervention
- are keeping their fingers crossed. A good sign is that while less than
5 percent of a disillusioned electorate turned out to elect Preval, 93
percent of eligible Haitians are registered to vote Sunday. ``Despite
all the difficulties observed, credible legislative, municipal and local
elections are still possible,'' the Organization of American States said