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#3772: Haiti-Elections (AP 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 to restore democracy 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.
The elections would restore a working legislature after President Rene
Preval disbanded Parliament in 1999 and appointed a new premier by decree.
The polls -- postponed at least four times -- would also free $500 million
in desperately needed foreign aid that is on hold until their country is
Electoral Council spokesman Roland Sainristil said turnout was about 60
percent even though about 20 percent of stations were unable to open. In
the fraud-plagued 1997 elections, only an estimated 5 percent of voters
Electoral Council President Leon Manus said workers would count ballots
by candlelight Sunday because much of the country lacks electricity. Vote
tallies were not expected until Monday at the earliest, and final results
were not expected until late this week.
International observers said Sunday night they were pleased with the
turnout, though they had no immediate comment on the fairness of the vote.
Earlier, more than 100 disgruntled voters protested over delays in the
seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil, briefly closing some polling booths.
Another group, angry that some voting stations had not opened by 4 p.m.,
set tires ablaze in a failed attempt to block a road in suburban Delmas.
Police restored order without incident.
Electoral officials said Sunday that security concerns delayed
distribution of voters' rolls and ballot papers. But chief opposition
leader Gerard Pierre-Charles condemned the delays as "sabotage." He also
charged that opposition monitors were being kept out of polling stations.
"This will lead to fraud," he warned.
Aristide, still by far the most popular politician in Haiti, said: "I
have just voted for peace: peace of mind, peace in the belly."
According to Galaxy Radio, a policeman was shot and killed just west of
the capital in Croix de Bouquet by supporters of a minor party candidate
who was arrested on charges of election fraud. The candidate, Jean Villard,
was subsequently released, the report said.
Campaigning 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.
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.
"Aristide is going to give us jobs," said Wilbert Genty, 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.