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#3815: Aristide's Party Claims Haitian Election Victory (fwd)


Tuesday May 23 6:01 PM ET 
 Aristide's Party Claims Haitian Election Victory By Jennifer Bauduy

 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - With official election results still
undeclared, Haiti's ruling Lavalas Family party said on Tuesday it had
won a legislative landslide, possibly paving the way for Jean-Bertrand
Aristide to return as the country's president later this year.
 ``The majority of people voted for Lavalas across the board from town
council, mayor, to senator and we know that in November the Haitian
people will choose Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president,'' Rene Civil,
campaign director for Aristide's Lavalas Family party, told Reuters.
 Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who in 1991 became Haiti's
first freely elected president but was ousted in a military coup seven
months later, is widely regarded as the most popular politician in the
poor Caribbean nation. He is expected to run for and retake the
presidency late this year. Elections officials on Tuesday were gathering
vote counts from rural polling stations and expected to have the results
of Sunday's legislative and municipal elections by week's end.

 Civil said the party had figures from vote counts at polling stations
nationwide which showed a Lavalas Family sweep in the elections, in
which 7,500 posts were contested. A run-off vote is slated for June 25.
``With these elections, and the presidential elections with President
Aristide, the people and Lavalas Family will have more latitude to
continue with the Lavalas policies which are rooted in what the people
 want,'' Senate candidate and party spokesman Yvon Neptune said.

 Party Seeks To Lead Parliament

 The party's name comes from the Haitian Creole word for flood,
``lavalas,'' referring to the flood of popular support that brought
Aristide to power in 1991. The Lavalas party later splintered into
numerous factions, and Aristide added the name ''family'' to his wing.
 Controlling parliament in anticipation of Aristide's expected return to
power after November elections has been at the heart of Lavalas Family's
campaign strategy. The party's campaign slogan ``Vote the Table (the
party emblem) so 2001 can be the best that it can'' called on voters to
cast ballots for any Lavalas Family candidate so that if Aristide takes
power as expected in February 2001, he will control parliament.
 ``The party who controls the executive should control the parliament,''
Civil said. The United States led an international invasion that
restored Aristide in 1994. He turned over power to his close friend,
President Rene Preval, at the end of his term. Preval dissolved
parliament in January 1999 after an 18-month political deadlock
 and has been ruling by decree since. The stalemate held up more than
$500 million of badly needed international aid to Haiti, where the
average yearly income is about $400. ``The relationship with the
executive and parliament won't be confrontational, but rather a
partnership to execute the plans that have come from the work of Lavalas
 Family,'' Neptune said. Sunday's elections were praised by Haitian and
U.S. officials because of large voter turnout and the absence of
large-scale violence, after months of political killings.

 Voting Marred By Shootout

 But polling was marred by a shootout that claimed the lives of a gunman
and a police officer at a polling site north of the capital, and dozens
of reports nationwide of gunmen who stormed poll sites after voting had
ended and stole ballot boxes. The Organization of American States
Election Observer Mission said it had confirmed reports of armed
commandos at as many as six polling sites in Hinche, a
 town 85 miles north of the capital, and was looking into similar
reports. Witnesses in some cases claimed the gunmen were members of
Lavalas Family party. Opposition parties said a last-minute exclusion of
their observers gave Lavalas Family control of polling stations across
the country. Witnesses at some sites said members of Lavalas Family
forced voters to cast ballots for its party.

 Lavalas Family denied all such allegations.

 The party countered that Haitians had voted for Lavalas Family because
of its focus on social change in Haiti, the poorest country in the
Americas. ``People voted for Lavalas a lot, but there are a lot of
numbers that shock me. The fact that they got nearly the same number of
votes at all the polling sites in Petionville is really bizarre,''
Danielle Saint-Lot, an independent candidate for mayor in the
Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, said. She said the chaos and
irregularities carried out in these elections would discourage many
people from participating in upcoming presidential elections.