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#3776: Haiti-Elections (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 22 (AP) -- Haitians have voted peacefully in massive
numbers for the first time in years -- a cry for democracy by a people
defying fears of violence at the polls and a history of persecution.
   "This was a tremendous victory for the Haitian people," said U.S.
Congressman John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan who was observing
Sunday's vote.
   There were no official participation figures, but Conyers estimated that
up to 60 percent of the 4 million-member electorate voted.
   Despite widespread relief at the relative peace, hundreds of thousands
of people were unable to vote because of alleged technical difficulties
that opposition leaders claimed were evidence of fraud by the dominant
Lavalas Party.
   The results will not be known for days because of a primitive and
meticulous counting process. After polling stations closed late Sunday,
officials counted ballots by candlelight and then painstakingly read the
results of each ballot paper, squinting to read and displaying each slip
for a crowd to behold.
   Some 29,490 candidates were contesting 7,625 posts in the legislature,
mayoral commissions, and local and rural councils. Runoff elections are
scheduled June 25 for legislative contests where no candidate wins more
than 50 percent of votes.
   Most voters interviewed said they were choosing candidates of Lavalas
supported by former president Jean-Betrand Aristide, the charismatic and
controversial former slum priest who remains the pivotal figure in Haitian
   "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."
   Voters began lining up at dawn Sunday and were kept waiting for hours at
many balloting stations. Electoral officials said unspecified security
concerns delayed the distribution of voter rolls and ballot papers.
   Some stations never opened, prompting brief protests and leaving
hundreds of thousands unable to vote; officials postponed voting by 200,000
people in southern Grand Anse district to a future date, citing "technical
   Opposition leader Gerard-Pierre Charles condemned the difficulties as
"sabotage" to prevent opposition supporters from voting.
   Even as electoral council president Leon Manus expressed his joy and
said "the country welcomed the end of the day with calm, serenity, and
perhaps a kind of happiness," a police radio frequency scanned at an
Internet cafe was reporting that cars without license plates were
transporting stolen ballot boxes.
   The electoral council told reporters late Sunday that police were
investigating reports that a red pickup truck had been stealing voting
   "There was massive fraud," said opposition senatorial candidate
Marie-Laurence Lassegue. "People were allowed to vote without voting cards,
people were arrested with ballot boxes stuffed with votes. Police arrested
people illegally carrying ballot boxes away from poll stations (and) some
opposition party monitors were barred from balloting stations."
   Lassegue said Lavalas opponents would ask for the elections to be
annulled on Gonave Island, where opposition parties boycotted the vote,
charging that all poll officials were exclusively Lavalas supporters.
   Legislative and local elections in Haiti, delayed four times in the past
two years, would install a constitutional parliament to replace the
legislature disbanded in January 1999 by President Rene Preval in a
prolonged power struggle triggered by fraudulent legislative elections in
   Such a parliament could approve a government, which would almost
certainly free a half billion dollars in foreign aid that is badly needed
in a country where 65 percent of the work force is unemployed, those with
work earn an average of $350 a year, and 80 percent of the people go
   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.
   There were two reported fatalities; a police officer killed by
supporters of a candidate arrested on fraud charges and the man who killed
the policeman, shot by police.
   Aristide was constitutionally barred from serving consecutive terms and
hand-picked Preval as his successor. But few doubt that Aristide, 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 was a test of whether his popularity could carry
lesser-known candidates and produce a Parliament of Lavalas loyalists.