The New York Times
May 21, 2000

Amid Fears of Violence, Haiti Holds Legislative Elections


          PORT-AU-PRINCE, 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.

          "Aristide is 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

          Voting began 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.

          Haitians, who 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.

          Sunday's elections 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.

          Results were 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

          The Organization 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.

          Demoralized opposition 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 1990.

          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.

          Aristide was barred from holding office for consecutive terms and he
          chose Preval, who was elected in a lackluster election in 1995.

          Preval presided 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
          by decree.

          Sunday's elections would return a democratic government to parliament
          and free $500 million in frozen foreign aid.