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#3801: Haitians produce successful election: 'Democracy is strong' (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Haitians produce successful election: 'Democracy is strong'

By E.A. TORRIERO Sun-Sentinel
Web-posted: 12:43 a.m. May 23, 2000

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- There was fraud at voting places, but it apparently
was not widespread.
   Gunmen stole some ballot boxes, but it looks like most votes were being
counted -- albeit haphazardly, chaotically and often by candlelight.
   There was a police shootout near one polling station on Sunday and a
rock-throwing, gun-firing feud between two camps of opposing candidates on
Monday. But largely the electoral process was peaceful. By Haitian standards
this is progress, international observers said.
   "Was this the perfect election?" asked U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.,
who monitored the balloting Sunday in Haiti's most significant vote in
years. "Hardly. But what the Haitian people did was a success. Democracy is
still strong in the hearts and minds of the citizens of this country."
   Buoyed by the huge turnout -- more than 60 percent -- Haitian officials
and international promoters of the election said they preferred to dwell on
what went right rather than what was amiss.
   Haiti desperately needs a functioning parliament because the last one was
dissolved in January 1999 in a political feud. The United States and other
countries have suspended more than half a billion dollars in aid because the
Haitian government cannot pass laws or make budgets.
   Sunday's election to fill more than 7,500 local and national posts was a
move toward building international and national confidence. Results won't be
known for days. A runoff is scheduled for late June.
   But allegations of fraud, robbery, and ballot count tampering threatened
Monday to undermine the credibility of the tallies. At least 200,000
Haitians in one southern province never voted because political bickering
held up registration.
   The tabulation of the ballots late Sunday and early Monday went anything
but smoothly. Marauding bands of armed thieves held up several polling
stations, but Haitian officials could not say how many cartons of votes they
   Many ballots were drenched in a driving rain as poll workers walked to
election headquarters after midnight with cartons of ballots on their heads.
Cast ballots were piled high in the street outside one downtown precinct,
and some of the voting sheets were found later in sewage drains.
   Boxes of marked ballots were "strewn all over the streets at 3 a.m.,"
said Jean-Paul Poirier, a Canadian consultant to the electoral council, who
organized a desperate effort to save the ballots.
   Haitian election officials insisted on Monday that most of the counts
were accurate and done without incident. But Orlando Marville, a diplomat
from Barbados supervising more than 200 foreign observers, termed the
disarray "most unfortunate." Because most of the ballots were thrown away
after being tallied, results will be impossible to confirm, observers said.
   Evans Paul, an opposition leader and former mayor of Port-au-Prince, said
the election results would ultimately not stand up to scrutiny.
   Opposition parties blamed the mayhem on the leading party, Famni Lavalas,
which they said was conducting "an electoral coup d'etat" of mayhem and
fraud to engineer a landslide victory.
   Lavalas supporters attacked the headquarters of a mayoral candidate on
Monday afternoon with stones, bottles and bullets. Seven people were
injured, police said.
   Lavalas was also blamed by its enemies for sending commandos to the polls
to steal ballots.
   A Lavalas leader called the charges "absurd."
   "Why would someone doing something illegal say 'I am a Lavalas Family
member?'" asked Yvon Neptune, a senate candidate and Lavalas spokesman.
   Neptune also denied accusations of vote-rigging and said the charges came
from "a group of politicians with no roots among the people." Still, despite
Monday's troubles, Haiti seems to be moving forward, U.S. officials say.
They hope Haiti will have a fully functioning government by summer.
   "It's a step-by-step process," said Donald Steinberg, the chief U.S.
diplomat for Haiti. "And Sunday was a big step."
   The Clinton administration has a lot invested in Haiti. A U.S.-led
intervention in 1994 was designed to uproot military thugs and restore a
democratic government ousted in a 1991 coup.
   But Haiti's political process has unraveled in recent years much to the
dismay of U.S. envoys.
   The U.S. government paid more than half of the $22 million tab for
Sunday's election in hopes of boosting Haitian democracy.
   Still, as reports of post-election trouble surfaced on Monday, U.S.
officials seemed nervous.
   "The election is not over until the tallying and the computation of
ballots and the complaints filed by anyone aggrieved of the process are all
of a piece," Conyers said. "I can assure you we will be watching."
   Information from Sun-Sentinel wire services was used to supplement this
   E.A. Torriero can be reached at etorriero@sun-sentinel.com or