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5981: Haiti Election Peaceful, Turnout Low (fwd)
Sunday November 26 6:46 PM ET
Haiti Election Peaceful, Turnout Low By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haitians cast ballots on Sunday in
a peaceful national election plagued by low voter turnout and boycotted
by opposition parties but expected to return the poor Caribbean nation's
first freely elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the presidency.
In an election shunned by Haiti's key international allies, voters
trickled to the polls after a tense week in which two children were
killed in a series of pipe bombings apparently meant to intimidate
voters. The election appeared to have been conducted in relative safety,
despite an explosion that rocked the Port-au-Prince slum of Carrefour
early on Sunday, injuring one person. Squads of armed police patrolled
the capital in pick-up trucks. Surrounded by an excited swarm of
supporters chanting ''Aristide or death,'' the diminutive, bespectacled
former Roman Catholic priest voted at a school near his luxury home in
Tabarre, a suburb of the capital.`I congratulate all the different
sectors involved in the election process. We vote for peace, peace for
all Haitians, without distinction,'' Aristide said after dropping his
paper ballot into a cardboard ballot box and giving supporters a thumbs
up. Radio stations in Port-au-Prince with correspondents scattered
across the country said voter turnout was very low, although no official
figure was immediately available. Some stations estimated no more than
10 percent of Haiti's 4 million eligible voters had cast ballots.
Opposition Condemns Election As Farce
Independent observers said Haitians appeared to have turned out in
higher numbers in pro-Aristide neighborhoods The poorest nation in the
Western Hemisphere, with 7.8 million people with per capita annual
income of just $400, Haiti is struggling once againto throw off decades
of dictatorship and military rule. Aristide was its first democratically
elected president, a fiery former Roman Catholic priest who was swept
into the National Palace on a wave of grass-roots support a decade ago.
Now 47, Aristide is considered the most popular politician in Haiti
and is expected to win the election easily over the unknown candidates
who challenged him in the absence of the nation's opposition parties.
Opposition leaders, citing the low turnout, condemned the election as a
farce and called it a defeat for Aristide's Lavalas Family party.
``This was a very bad election. There is no transparency; there is no
participation,'' said Evans Paul, a former Port-au-Prince mayor and a
leader of the opposition coalition Espace de Concertation. ``This is
not an election. People have said no to Lavalas.' Although the result
may not be known for days, Aristide's expected victory will give him
sweeping power. Lavalas Family won parliamentary and municipal elections
overwhelmingly in May. But Haiti held the election without the support
of traditional allies like the United States, Canada and the European
Union (news - web sites) after international observers declared the May
vote miscalculated totals in several Senate races that gave Lavalas
candidates victories without runoffs. Political analysts have said it
appears likely the United States will not recognize the new government.
At a teacher training school near the imposing National Palace in
downtown Port-au-Prince, President Rene Preval, Aristide's
hand-picked successor who won the presidency in 1995, cast his ballot
and lauded the vote. ``First, there is no coup d'etat. Second ... this
is the first time we have held an election on time according to the
Haitian constitution,'' Preval said. Wait Over For Aristide Supporters
Opposition parties boycotted the vote and asked their supporters to do
likewise because of the tainted May election. Some residents of the
capital went to polling stations but declined to vote, in protest.
``It's not the moment to vote,'' said a 24-year-old opposition supporter
who went to a polling station at Ecole Nationale Argentine Belle Garde,
a primary school in central Port-au-Prince. ``If Aristide doesn't
want to sit down with the opposition he can't do anything for this
country.'Belle Garde, a school with a dusty courtyard surrounded by
concrete block walls topped with coiled razor wire, was the site of a
massacre of voters during an abortive attempt at a national election in
1997 shortly after the fall of Haiti's Duvalier dictatorship. Turnout at
the school was light.This is a dead zone because people remember the
killings,'' one poll worker said.
Aristide's supporters have been awaiting the chance to return him to the
presidency, feeling cheated that his last term was interrupted by a
bloody 1991 military coup that sent him into exile just seven months
after he took office.``I've waited a long time for Aristide. It's time
for him to return,'' said Ermonon Charles, 37.
A U.S.-led multinational force restored Aristide to power in 1994. But
democracy has been on shaky ground since. Preval won the 1995 election
handily. But his term in office was marred by a fractious legislature
that left Haiti's government virtually unable to function.Aristide also
will face daunting challenges. Haiti has an illiteracy rate of about 80
percent and a similar unemployment rate. Sixty-two percent of its people
are underfed, better than only Somalia and Afghanistan, according to the
United Nations (news - web sites). Many Haitians are without
electricity; streets in the capital are in ruins; potable water is in
short supply and the environment has been badly degraded.
Political chaos in the last three years and the government's refusal to
amend the results of the May elections have also put millions of dollars
in international aid at risk. Aristide must also persuade friendly
nations that he is willing to introduce market reforms and continue a
program of privatizing government businesses.``The youth of our country
have big expectations for him,'' said Louines Felicien, 28, a security
guard who was lined up to vote.