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#3773: Haitian vote today may have key impact (fwd)


Haitian vote today may have key impact 
 By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 5/21/2000 
  This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 5/21/2000

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti's central election commission late last night
postponed today's vote in two southern provinces that account for about
 10 percent of the electorate, dealing a blow to the country's steps   
toward democracy. United Nations officials said they were also checking
at least five unconfirmed reports of violence around the Port-au-Prince
area, including tires burning near the international airport and
gunshots near the Family Lavalas party headquarters.The suspension of
the election in the Grande-Anse and neighboring Nippes areas came
largely because of earlier long delays in preparation for the vote and
disagreements over poll workers, officials said. No date has been
rescheduled. UN election workers, who have helped organize votes around
the  world, called today's ballot one of the most complex undertakings
they have ever seen. The great unknown today is whether widespread
violence will erupt or whether corruption will throw the process into
chaos, and accelerate the collapse of a deeply stagnated political and
economic system. In the last six weeks, there have been about 15
election-related killings, enough to scare many voters but still far
fewer episodes of violence than in past elections.In another possible
sign of trouble for today's vote, about 200 angry poll workers yesterday
attempted to enter an administration office of the Provisional Electoral
Council demanding back wages.''If they don't pay me, I won't work on
election day,'' said one man who identified himself only as Jean Robert,
21.  The election - Haiti's first to strictly follow its Constitution,
which was written in 1987 - would establish a decentralized government,
with five separate ballots for local, regional, and parliament seats. A
presidential election is set for November. Now, Haiti has only eight
elected officials in the entire country; its parliament was disbanded 18
months ago.In today's vote, some 29,000 candidates are running for 7,530
local and regional positions. Voters will cast ballots in 11,000
stations, each limited to 400 voters, one of the checks against possible
ballot stuffing.Picture IDs have been made for the nearly 4 million
registered voters, a process that has had the added benefit of
officially registering hundreds of thousands of people as Haitian
residents for the first time. An estimated 45 percent of the population
has never been recorded in birth or marriage records.
At a downtown Port-au-Prince park yesterday, Representative William
 D. Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and one of three members of a
 congressional delegation observing the elections, asked a young man if
 he planned to vote. The man pulled out a wallet, which was empty save
his ID card. He said he did plan to participate.
Clinton administration officials have been especially anxious about
Haiti's vote as US involvement in the impoverished island could
become an issue in this year's US presidential contest. In 1994, 20,000
US troops help restore democracy to Haiti, but Republican critics say
the $2 billion cost has yielded few results. US officials had pushed the
Haitian government to hold the vote as soon as possible this year to
negate any coattail effect from the presidential campaign of former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the fall. Aristide, the only
candidate so far, is expected to win in a landslide. His Lavalas Family
party also is expected to do well today.The subject of this fall's
presidential race has arisen frequently among diplomats at the US
Embassy here. The orderliness of today's vote, diplomats say, will help
determine whether the United States pays for the November election
preparations and will affect other aid projects.About $24 million in US
funds has been set aside for today's election. At an embassy meeting
Friday, one US diplomat told international observers that it remained an
open question whether the United States would fund an election that
would produce Aristide as the sure winner. The diplomat, said two
participants at the meeting, called Aristide a''dictator.''