[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#3758: Haiti Votes in Legislative Elections (fwd)


May 21, 2000  Haiti Votes in Legislative Elections

 Filed at 10:12 a.m. EDT  By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Braving threats of violence,Haitians lined
up outside polling stations Sunday in a vote that will restore a
democratic government and in the process free a  half-billion dollars in
desperately needed foreign aid. By a stinking drain running with sewage,
more than 100 people lined up to cast ballots in Citi Soleil, a seaside
shantytown of 500,000 people.``We were scared, that's why we came in a
group to vote,'' said Micheline Blaise, a 50-year-old mother of two.
``We have to have change in this country. Most people said they were
voting for the candidates of popular former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide's party.``Aristide is going to give us jobs,'' said Wilbert
Tenty, an  unemployed 23-year-old. ``The people he told us to vote for
can only be good people.'' Voting began early Sunday following a
campaign marred by at least 15 political slayings, arson attacks and
intimidation. Rumors were rife that violence would erupt at the polls.  
Haitians, who have largely boycotted an electoral process fraught   
with fraud and disorganization over recent years, have registered en   
masse to vote -- some 4 million of the 8 million people in a country   
where half the population is under 18 -- indicating a burning desire   
for change. The United Nations and the United States pressed President
Rene Preval to hold the elections, which had been postponed four times
since 1998 amid political turmoil. Sunday's elections will test
Aristide's ability to fill Parliament with his Lavalas Family party
loyalists. Aristide -- Haiti's most popular  politician -- is expected
to win November's presidential election.  Some 29,490 candidates were
contesting 7,625 posts including Parliament's 83-seat Chamber of
Deputies and 19 of 27 Senate seats, as well as local posts. Voting was
to end at 7 p.m. EDT. Results were expected to trickle in over the next
week and runoff elections are scheduled June 25 for legislative contests
in which no candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes. But there are
sure to be hitches. Though $22.5 million was budgeted for the election
-- including $8 million from international donors -- the disorganization
that marked the registration process was expected to impede the voting. 
 On Saturday night, officials postponed elections for 200,000 voters in
southern Grand Anse district, citing ``insurmountable logistical       
difficulties,'' a source at the electoral council said. Some voters may
have trouble finding polling stations that have not been well
identified. Some names may be missing from voters' rolls.Some voting
stations may not receive ballot papers in time. The electoral council
denied rumors Sunday that 1 million ballot papers had been stolen.     
The Organization of American States expressed concern about voter      
fraud, and criticized the U.N.-trained police force for not stopping   
pre-election violence, most committed by Aristide militants, though    
his party routinely denies involvement. The police behavior does not
bode well for Sunday, with just 3,500 officers to secure the elections 
nationwide. In the northeast, the vice president of the departmental
electoral council said he was going underground after telephone death
threats.`I have to save my life, I'm going into hiding,'' Ignace St.
Fleur, also a member of the Space for Concorde opposition coalition,
told The Associated Press on Saturday by telephone. Also late Saturday,
three bursts of automatic gunfire were fired in front of Aristide's
center for homeless children in midtown Port-au-Prince. Witnesses said
they saw heavily armed men in the area. Demoralized opposition
candidates, who stopped campaigning weeks ago because of the
assassinations, already are crying foul. All opposition parties are
boycotting elections on Gonave Island, in Port-au-Prince Bay, where they
say ballot stations have been staffed exclusively with Aristide
partisans. Some 22,500 local and 200 international observers were
monitoring the vote. Aristide is a former slum priest whose fiery
rhetoric helped inspire a popular uprising that ousted the 29-year
Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986.The military aborted Haiti's first
free elections in 1987, killing voters at polling stations. Undaunted,
millions turned out to elect Aristide in 1990. In 1991, soldiers again
seized power, forcing Aristide into exile,persecuting his supporters and
causing tens of thousands to flee to Florida in flimsy boats until
President Clinton sent troops to halt the exodus and restore democracy,
in 1994.  Aristide was barred from holding office for consecutive terms
and he chose Preval, who was elected in a lackluster election in 1995. 
Preval presided over a fraud-ridden 1997 legislative vote in which just
5 percent of voters cast ballots. A power struggle followed and Preval
disbanded Parliament in January 1999 and appointed a new  government by
decree.  Sunday's elections would return a democratic government to 
parliament and free $500 million in frozen foreign aid.