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#4561: Haiti Holds Second-Round Election Amid Criticism (fwd)


Sunday July 9 10:17 PM ET 
 Haiti Holds Second-Round Election Amid Criticism
 By Trenton Daniel

 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Sporadic incidents of violence and
opposition claims of a low turnout marked the second round of elections
in Haiti on Sunday after strong advance criticism at home and abroad of
the way the result of the first round of voting, in May, was calculated.
International observers and opposition parties had snubbed the runoff
vote, alleging that results from the first round on May 21 gave former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ruling Lavalas Family a stronger win
than it was due. Radio Metropole, an independent station that had
correspondents stationed throughout the country, reported that voter
turnout was low, forcing polling stations to close before the 5 p.m.
Opposition parties said a low turnout showed lack of interest among
Haitians in the second-round vote. But the election council said turnout
was high.The parliamentary and municipal elections in the Caribbean
nation had been viewed as a key step as Haiti, the poorest country in
the Americas, struggles to build democratic institutions after decades
of dictatorship and military rule. But the Organization of American
States, which monitored the first-round vote,pulled out of observing the
second round on Friday after weeks of trying to persuade the government
of President Rene Preval to recalculate the results.

 Opposition Urged Boycott

 Most opposition parties called for a boycott of the second round of
voting in the nation of 7.5 million people that shares the island of
Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Radio Metropole reported several
incidents of violence on Sunday. In Artibonite, a province north of the
capital, protesters set tires aflame in the streets. Members
 of Kozepep, a pro-government peasant organization that helped monitor
the election after international and local observers withdrew, were
beaten by unidentified attackers, who also burned election material.
Unknown arsonists burned about 15 polling stations in an area near
Gonaives, a city 100 miles north of the capital, Radio Haiti Inter,
another independent radio station, reported. Opposition parties
congratulated the Haitian people for not voting en masse. ``The low
voter turnout means that the people don't see why they should vote,''
 said Ariel Henry, a member of Convergence, a six-member opposition
coalition. Critics say that although the Lavalas party was set to win
the elections, the method used to calculate the first-round results,
skimming out the candidates with the least votes, gave Lavalas more
outright victories in the Senate than it was due, with 16
 wins out of the 19 Senate seats up for election. Candidates needed a
simple majority to avoid a second-round runoff.

 Most Of Chamber At Stake

 The runoff election aims to fill 46 of the 83 seats in the Chamber of
Deputies from constituencies throughout the country, except for the
capital and the Grand Anse department, for which official results have
not been released. In the first round, Lavalas won 26 of the lower house
seats and most of the mayoral posts. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic
priest who was Haiti's first freely elected president, is widely
expected to run for and win the presidency later this year.
 Critics of the first-round result said his party had apparently sought
to establish an overwhelming parliamentary majority ahead of the
presidential vote. Announcing its pullout on Friday, the OAS said it
would not observe the second round because the final results for the
Senate results as proclaimed by the Provisional Electoral Council were
``incorrect'' and the mission could not  ``consider them either accurate
or fair.'' In the wake of the May vote, three of the nine members of the
council quit, saying they could not approve the results, including
President Leon Manus, who left the country saying he felt his life was
threatened. The United States also criticized the government for not
holding runoffs of the flawed Senate races on Sunday. A U.S.-led
invasion force of 20,000 troops restored Aristide in 1994 after a
military coup ousted him in 1991. Haiti's government has been paralyzed
for most of the past three years after parliamentary elections held in
April 1997 were declared fraudulent. Preval, who succeeded Aristide in
1995, dissolved Parliament in January 1999 and has ruled since by