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#3763: Haiti-Elections (update) (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHELLE FAUL
PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 21 (AP) -- Braving threats of violence, Haitians
lined up by the thousands Sunday for a vote that will restore a democratic
government and in the process free a half-billion dollars in desperately
needed foreign aid.
The Haitians' strong determination to vote -- not seen since 1990
elections brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti's first
democratic vote -- were frustrated by hours-long delays.
It appeared officials would extend voting beyond the scheduled 5 p.m.,
which could pose problems since most parts of this impoverished country
have no electricity to light polling stations.
By noon, most voting places in Port-au-Prince were functioning. But more
than 100 disgruntled voters protested in the seaside shantytown of Cite
Soleil. Radio Vision 2000 said that of 120 stations there, eight had no
voting materials and another 20 never opened.
Electoral officials said security concerns delayed distribution of
voters' rolls and ballot papers.
Chief opposition leader Gerard Pierre-Charles condemned it as
"sabotage." He also charged that opposition monitors were being kept out of
polling stations. "This will lead to fraud," he warned.
Premier Jacques-Edouard Alexis voted and said that, "We are on the right
path in spite of our difficulties." He said the elections were crucial to
help Haiti institutionalize democracy and develop its economy.
Campaigning for the legislative and local elections -- postponed four
times since 1998 -- was marred by at least 15 politically related slayings
since March 27, arson attacks on opposition offices and rumors that
violence would erupt at the polls.
"We were scared," said voter Micheline Blaise. "But we overcame our
fears. We have to vote because we have to have change in this country."
Taking safety in numbers, the unemployed 50-year-old mother of two came
with a group of friends to join more than 100 voters lined up along a
stinking drain running with sewage in Cite Soleil, where 500,000 people
live beside pigs and goats rooting in garbage.
Late Saturday, the Independent Coalition of International Observers
warned that "rumors about these violent acts have spun out of control,
heightening the atmosphere of intimidation."
Most opposition parties accuse Aristide's governing Lavalas Family party
of violent intimidation and plotting fraud. Most pre-election violence was
committed by Lavalas supporters, though the party denies involvement.
Saturday night, there was a small explosion at Aristide's midtown center
for homeless people, but no one was hurt. The premier has blamed a grenade
explosion at the gate of the Electoral Council office on the opposition.
All opposition parties boycotted elections on Gonave Island, in
Port-au-Prince Bay, charging that polling stations were staffed solely by
Aristide was constitutionally barred from serving consecutive terms and
hand-picked his successor, Rene Preval. But few doubt that Aristide, a
former slum priest whose fiery rhetoric helped inspire the overthrow of the
29-year Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, will win presidential elections
planned for November.
Sunday's election would test whether his popularity can carry
lesser-known candidates and produce a Parliament of Lavalas loyalists.
Though he has done little campaigning himself and was absent from his
party's closing rally on Friday, Aristide appeared to have much influence
"Aristide is going to give us jobs," said Wilbert Tenty, an unemployed
23-year-old. "Aristide is our father. The people he told us to vote for can
only be good people."
Some 29,490 candidates are contesting 7,625 posts. Some 11,238 polling
places were named, though some did not open, many were not well identified,
and people had trouble finding out where to cast ballots. Runoff elections
are scheduled June 25 for legislative contests where no candidate wins more
than 50 percent of votes.
Saturday night, election officials postponed voting by 200,000 people in
southern Grand Anse district, citing "technical difficulties."
An international coalition of nine observer groups said it believed some
25 percent of the electorate has been disenfranchised. It questioned the
Electoral Council's claim that 4 million of Haiti's 8 million people had
participated in a typically chaotic registration process.