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#3747: AP FWD - Haiti Prepares For Elections (fwd)
Haiti Prepares For Elections
By MICHELLE FAUL
.c The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Torn between fears of violence and a burning
desire to change their lives, Haitians have a chance to choose a new
Parliament on Sunday in long-delayed elections that would restore a legal
government and foreign aid.
But a flare-up of political violence, government foot-dragging and bumbling
preparations could mean trouble.
``I know everyone says there's going to be violence, and not to go out and
vote, but I'm going no matter what,'' said 30-year-old mason Jesuslhomme
Guerrier. ``I'm not going to let the macoutes (bandits) run our country
Haitians who have largely boycotted an electoral process fraught with fraud
and disorganization over recent years have registered to vote en masse, some
4 million of the 8 million people in a country where half the population is
But many voters' enthusiasm has been doused by fear and more than a dozen
assassinations that prompted opposition candidates to stop campaigning. The
United States and United Nations - which intervened to restore democracy in
1994 - worry their experiment to instill democracy in this Caribbean nation
``By turning out to register in large numbers, Haitians have demonstrated
their commitment ... to the democratic process,'' U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan said Friday.
Sunday's turnout will show whether Haitians can overcome their fears.
Campaigning ended on a dull note Friday, with just 200 people showing up for
a rally of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family in the
seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil, a party stronghold.
Opposition parties say the elections are being rigged to favor Lavalas and
set up a dictatorship under the populist Aristide, who few doubt will win
presidential elections planned for November.
Overthrown in a 1991 coup, Aristide was restored to power after the 1994
invasion. Barred by law from seeking a consecutive term, he picked Rene
Preval to succeed him in 1995 elections that brought Haiti's first democratic
handover of power.
Preval 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 foreign
aid desperately needed in a country where 65 percent of the work force is
unemployed, average annual income is less then $350 and 80 percent of
children go to bed hungry.
The vote also will test Aristide's ability to stock Parliament and thousands
of local government offices with Lavalas loyalists.
Meanwhile, Haiti's U.N.-trained police force has been unable - or unwilling -
to stop pre-election violence, and only 3,500 officers will police Sunday's
``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, was intended ``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, the United States and the United Nations - which have invested
more than $1 billion in Haiti since the 1994 intervention - are keeping their
``Despite all the difficulties observed, credible legislative, municipal and
local elections are still possible,'' the Organization of American States