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#3756: Delays, lack of ballots plague Haitian election (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Jane Sutton

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, May 21 (Reuters) - Haiti's oft-delayed
parliamentary and local elections got off to a rocky start on Sunday,
plagued by delays in opening the voting sites and late distribution of the
     The deeply impoverished nation of 7.5 million has operated without a
functioning government since President Rene Preval dissolved Parliament in
January 1999.
     Elections were postponed indefinitely for technical reasons in one of
the Caribbean nation's nine geographic departments, Grande Anse, where
partisan bickering delayed the start of voter registration until last week.
     In Haiti's eight other departments, polls were scheduled to open at 6
a.m. (7 a.m. EDT) (1100 GMT) but many still had not opened two hours later.
     Enthusiasm for the election has already been dashed by the killing of
15 candidates and party officials in the past two months. Some of the
victims were hacked to bits with machetes. The elections were first set for
November 1999, and the many postponements have exhausted most candidates'
meagre coffers.
     Odette Thomas, a 42-year-old secretary, was among 50 people waiting
with their voter registration cards in hand outside a closed polling site
in Turgeau, a residential neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.
     "I've been waiting since 6 a.m. No one has come to tell us anything,"
said Thomas. "I'm going to stay the whole day if I have to, even until
     "I want to vote for change. We have to get out of this mess. We have
laws to pass in Parliament," said Thomas. "There is too much crap going on,
too many people dying needlessly."
     Election observers from the Organisation of American States, speaking
from a regional election bureau that oversees 13 voting sites in the hilly
Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, said that office still had not opened
shortly after 7 a.m..
     "They've just been going through the materials. It looks like they're
going to open in a few minutes," OAS spokeswoman Mary Durran said.
     Polling sites elsewhere were plagued by a lack of ballots and other
     Late on Saturday afternoon, many of the ballots were still at a
printing warehouse in Port-au-Prince, being loaded by hand onto trucks for
     Debussy Damier, vice president of the Provisional Electoral Council
(CEP) overseeing the vote, told Radio Vision 2000 some drivers who were to
deliver the ballots had not done so because they did not want to leave them
unguarded in the polling sites overnight.
     Elsewhere, workers demanded to be paid before they would deliver
materials. "You know very well how this country is. Each person, as long as
they haven't been paid yet, they don't want to work," Damier said.
     "There hasn't been much of a campaign," said Steve Griner, a senior
specialist with the OAS' Unit for Promoting Democracy. The main election
contenders -- the Lavalas Family of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, and a bloc of six opposition parties -- both proclaimed victory
days before the election.
     Voters are to choose candidates to fill some 7,500 posts including 19
Senate seats, the entire 83-seat Chamber of Deputies and 133 mayoralties.
     The results of Haiti's last elections, in April 1997, were annulled
due to widespread fraud.
     In 1987, at least 34 people were killed by paramilitaries in an
aborted presidential election. The memory of that massacre is still fresh
in the minds of many Haitians who stayed inside their homes on Sunday,
leaving the streets strangely quiet in the capital.