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#3757: Delays, Lack of Ballots Plague Haitian Election (fwd)


Sunday May 21 9:53 AM ET 
 Delays, Lack of Ballots Plague Haitian Election By Jane Sutton

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti's oft-delayed parliamentary and
local elections got off to a rocky start Sunday, plagued by delays in
opening the voting sites and late distribution of the ballots.
 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' meager 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 neighborhood 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 midnight.''
 ``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 Organization 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 materials. Late Saturday afternoon, many of the ballots were
still at a printing warehouse in Port-au-Prince, being loaded by
 hand onto trucks for distribution. 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 Sunday, leaving the streets strangely quiet in the capital.