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#3766: Delays, lack of ballots plague Haitian elections (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Jane Sutton

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, May 21 (Reuters) - Late distribution of ballots
delayed the opening of polling sites in Haiti's parliamentary and local
elections on Sunday, further hampering efforts to establish a fully
functioning government in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
     The nation of 7.5 million people has operated without a full
government since President Rene Preval dissolved parliament in January
1999. That has held up distribution of more than $500 million of sorely
needed international aid in Haiti, where the average yearly income is below
$400 per person. Successful elections would pave the way for a presidential
poll in November.
     Sunday's elections were postponed indefinitely for technical reasons
in one of Haiti'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.  (1100 GMT). Many opened several hours late and others still had not
opened by midday because they had not received ballots, said Mary Durran, a
spokeswoman for election observers from the Organisation of American States
     Some parts of Haiti, especially in the mountains, are so remote that
the ballots were to be carried by donkey pack.
     Enthusiasm for the election had already been dashed by the killing of
15 candidates and party officials in the past two months. Some victims were
hacked to bits with machetes. The elections were first set for November
1999, and the many postponements have exhausted most candidates' meagre
     OAS observers said they were heartened to see lines of voters waiting
to cast their ballots.
     "The reports are that people are voting," Durran said.
     The OAS and the Provisionial Electoral Council (CEP), which oversees
voting, said there had been no reports of violence at the polling sites but
neither could estimate how many of the 11,235 sites nationwide had actually
     Odette Thomas, a 42-year-old secretary, was among 50 people waiting to
vote 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."
     At one polling station that did open in the Delmas neighbourhood of
Port-au-Prince, witnesses said voting was cut short when a red truck sped
away with the ballot boxes four hours before the polls were supposed to
     Many of the ballots were still at a printing warehouse in
Port-au-Prince late on Saturday afternoon, 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 on Saturday 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
ballots. "As long as they haven't been paid yet, they don't want to work,"
Damier said.
     CEP spokesman Roland Sainristil blamed security problems for the late
distribution of ballots and pledged without elaborating that "We're ready
to do whatever is necessary to allow people who need to vote to go out and
     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 mayors.
Aristide is widely expected to run again in November's presidential
elections. The new president would then choose a prime minister and
     Elections are rare in Haiti, which overthrew French colonists to
become the first black republic in 1804 but has struggled under
dictatorships and political instability since.
     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.
     Aristide, a former parish priest, was chosen as president in Haiti's
first democratic elections, run by the United Nations in 1990. He was
overthrown by a military coup seven months after taking office and restored
to power by a U.S.-led military invasion in 1994.
     Preval, an Aristide ally, was elected in 1996 but was unable to work
effectively with the multi-party parliament he dismissed. Haiti's last
elections, in April 1997, were annulled due to widespread fraud.