Amid Fears of Violence, Haiti Holds Legislative Elections
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Haiti -- Braving threats of violence, Haitians
lined up outside polling stations Sunday in a vote that will restore a
democratic government and in the process free a half-billion dollars in
desperately needed foreign aid.
By a stinking
drain running with sewage, more than 100 people lined up
to cast ballots in Cite Soleil, a seaside shantytown of 500,000 people.
"We were scared,
that's why we came in a group to vote," said Micheline
Blaise, a 50-year-old mother of two. "We have to have change in this
Most people said
they were voting for the candidates of popular former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party.
going to give us jobs," said Wilbert Tenty, an unemployed
23-year-old. "The people he told us to vote for can only be good
early Sunday following a campaign marred by at least 15
political slayings, arson attacks and intimidation. Rumors were rife that
violence would erupt at the polls.
have largely boycotted an electoral process fraught with
fraud and disorganization over recent years, have registered en masse to
vote -- some 4 million of the 8 million people in a country where half the
population is under 18 -- indicating a burning desire for change.
The United Nations
and the United States pressed President Rene Preval
to hold the elections, which had been postponed four times since 1998
amid political turmoil.
will test Aristide's ability to fill Parliament with his
Lavalas Family party loyalists. Aristide -- Haiti's most popular politician
-- is expected to win November's presidential election.
Some 29,490 candidates
were contesting 7,625 posts including
Parliament's 83-seat Chamber of Deputies and 19 of 27 Senate seats, as
well as local posts. Voting was to end at 7 p.m. EDT.
expected to trickle in over the next week and runoff
elections are scheduled June 25 for legislative contests in which no
candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes.
But there are
sure to be hitches. Though $22.5 million was budgeted for
the election -- including $8 million from international donors -- the
disorganization that marked the registration process was expected to
impede the voting.
On Saturday night,
officials postponed elections for 200,000 voters in
southern Grand Anse district, citing "insurmountable logistical difficulties,"
a source at the electoral council said.
Some voters may
have trouble finding polling stations that have not been
well identified. Some names may be missing from voters' rolls. Some
voting stations may not receive ballot papers in time. The electoral
council denied rumors Sunday that 1 million ballot papers had been
of American States expressed concern about voter
fraud, and criticized the U.N.-trained police force for not stopping
pre-election violence, most committed by Aristide militants, though his
party routinely denies involvement. The police behavior does not bode
well for Sunday, with just 3,500 officers to secure the elections
In the northeast,
the vice president of the departmental electoral council
said he was going underground after telephone death threats. "I have to
save my life, I'm going into hiding," Ignace St. Fleur, also a member of
the Space for Concorde opposition coalition, told The Associated Press
on Saturday by telephone.
Also late Saturday,
three bursts of automatic gunfire were fired in front of
Aristide's center for homeless children in midtown Port-au-Prince.
Witnesses said they saw heavily armed men in the area.
candidates, who stopped campaigning weeks
ago because of the assassinations, already are crying foul. All opposition
parties are boycotting elections on Gonave Island, in Port-au-Prince Bay,
where they say ballot stations have been staffed exclusively with Aristide
Some 22,500 local
and 200 international observers were monitoring the
Aristide is a
former slum priest whose fiery rhetoric helped inspire a
popular uprising that ousted the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship in
1986. The military aborted Haiti's first free elections in 1987, killing
voters at polling stations. Undaunted, millions turned out to elect Aristide
In 1991, soldiers
again seized power, forcing Aristide into exile,
persecuting his supporters and causing tens of thousands to flee to
Florida in flimsy boats until President Clinton sent troops to halt the
exodus and restore democracy, in 1994.
barred from holding office for consecutive terms and he
chose Preval, who was elected in a lackluster election in 1995.
over a fraud-ridden 1997 legislative vote in which just 5
percent of voters cast ballots. A power struggle followed and Preval
disbanded Parliament in January 1999 and appointed a new government
would return a democratic government to parliament
and free $500 million in frozen foreign aid.