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#3826: Problems plague Haitian vote (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Problems plague Haitian vote
International monitors say things went 'very well,' but ballots strewn in
the streets trigger fears of a 'new crisis.'
Mike Williams - Staff
Tuesday, May 23, 2000
Port-au-Prince, Haiti --- A day after Haiti held its first relatively
peaceful election in years, there were scattered reports of stolen or
damaged ballot boxes, although international observers said they remained
generally pleased with the way the election went.
"We are receiving some reports of problems with the count, and we're looking
into those," said Mary Durran, spokeswoman for the 210-member Organization
of American States observer team. "It's too early to tell how serious the
problems are and what effect they may have on the outcome. But on the whole,
we think the vote went very well."
The Sunday election was seen as crucial for poverty-stricken Haiti, which
hasn't had a functioning Parliament since early 1999.
Early Monday, thousands of paper ballots and cardboard ballot boxes were
found strewn in the streets near a downtown election bureau office where the
materials were stored overnight. The discovery prompted a flurry of
Durran said the ballots had already been counted, and observers were
investigating whether the count sheets that recorded the totals had been
turned in separately.
"It doesn't mean the vote will have to be canceled," she said.
Observers also were checking into reports that armed men had stolen ballot
boxes at some of Haiti's rural polling places, she said.
Opposition leaders quickly charged that the reports were evidence that their
opponents had tried to manipulate the election results. They called for a
special commission to investigate the problems.
"This is a disaster," said Claude Mroumain, head of the Generation 2004
Party and part of a five-party opposition coalition known Espace de
Concertation, which translates roughly as "Common Ground." "This puts Haiti
in a new crisis."
Opposition leaders have charged for months that supporters of former Haitian
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were scheming to manipulate the election.
Aristide was not running, but his Lavalas Family Party was backing hundreds
of candidates for seats in Parliament and local governments.
Aristide is expected to run for president this fall.
Sunday's vote was postponed three times in the past six months, and there
were 15 political killings in the weeks leading up to the election. Despite
two slayings Sunday, the vote seemed free of the widespread violence that
plagued Haiti's past elec- tions.
Thousands streamed to the polls, many anxious to cast a vote they hoped
would set their troubled country on the road to recovery.
Durran said it would be several days before observers could make a
definitive statement about the election. but she stressed that, even with
the scattered reports of irregularities, it appeared the vast majority of
polling places had finished the process without problems.
"There are more than 11,000 polling places in the country, which should give
you an idea of the scale," she said. "Our impression at this moment is that
any problems affected only a minority of stations."
The Atlanta Journal