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5983: Haitians Expected to Return Aristide to Presidency (fwd)
Sunday November 26 5:21 PM ET
Haitians Expected to Return Aristide to Presidency
By Jim Loney
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haitians cast their ballots on Sunday
in a national election shunned by opposition parties and Haiti's key
international allies but expected to return the poor Caribbean nation's
first freely elected leader,Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the presidency
after a five-year hiatus. Streets in the normally bustling capital were
sparsely traveled after a tense week leading up to election day in which
two children were killed in a series of pipe bombings apparently meant
to intimidate voters. An explosion rocked the Port-au-Prince slum of
Carrefour early on Sunday,injuring one person, and squads of armed
police patrolled in open pickup trucks.Many polling stations in the
capital remained closed past their scheduled 6 a.m. EST opening and
voters were lined up at the gates. When they opened some reported just a
trickle of voters while others predominantly in pro-Aristide
neighborhoods reported a larger turnout, poll observers said.
``I want to vote because I would like to see the situation in Haiti
change significantly. There are many, many hungry people who don't have
food to eat,'' said Corvil Wilner, 40, a tailor who said he would vote
for Aristide. Elections officials prepared nearly 12,000 polling
stations in the nation of 7.8 million people, some 4 million of whom
were eligible to vote. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with
per capita annual income of just $400, Haiti is struggling once again to
throw off decades of dictatorship and military rule. Aristide was its
first democratically elected president, a fiery former Roman Catholic
priest who was sweptinto 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.
An election victory will give Aristide sweeping power. His Lavalas
Family party won parliamentary and municipal elections
overwhelmingly in May and controls the legislature and most local
offices. But Haiti is holding this 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 a ballot
before noon. ``What I learned from this experience is 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.
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.
Sit With Opposition
`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 pollworker 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 employment
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