February 10, 1999
Haiti says it is taking steps toward elections

                  PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- Haiti's president, now ruling without most
                  of parliament, is paving the way for new elections and not trying to establish
                  a dictatorship, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday.

                  "This situation is going towards elections for the renewal of the parliament
                  and also for mayors and other local officials," Fritz Longchamp told Reuters
                  in an interview.

                  Longchamp spoke a week after the U.N. Security Council called on Haiti's
                  leaders to overcome differences and work towards elections.

                  "The president in Haiti is the head of state, he has the responsibility to
                  oversee the functioning of all the institutions, whether it's parliament or what
                  not," he said.

                  Jan. 11, President Rene Preval announced the terms of most legislators had
                  expired, citing a 1995 electoral law that set the end of term for all of the
                  Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate as the second Monday in

                  But legislators contested Preval's decision since no new officials had been
                  elected to take their places. Under the electoral law cited by Preval, only
                  nine senators serving six-year terms would remain out of the entire

                  Preval's speech -- and his later replacement of 23 mayors across Haiti --
                  sparked unrest in the impoverished country and prompted the U.N. Security
                  Council's Feb. 3 recommendation.

                  Jan. 22, four U.S. senators submitted a resolution to Congress saying Preval
                  had "seized dictatorial powers by effectively dissolving Haiti's parliament and
                  announcing he will rule by decree."

                  A Feb. 5 report by members of Congress led by New York Republican
                  Benjamin Gilman expressed concern after a visit to Haiti about the
                  "dissolution of parliament," which the report said had left "a dangerous
                  vacuum in the balance of power."

                  "You can interpret whatever politics that might be behind it the way you
                  want, but to use this case to say that Rene Preval is putting together a
                  dictatorship in Haiti with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, I say this is unfair,"
                  Longchamp said.

                  Haiti returned to democratic rule in 1994 when the United States ended a
                  three-year dictatorship and restored Aristide, its first freely elected
                  president. Preval, an Aristide protege, succeeded the former priest as
                  president in 1996.

                  Longchamp said Preval was trying to overcome Haiti's long government
                  impasse, which resulted from a conflict over disputed 1997 legislative
                  elections between the executive branch and the opposition Organization of
                  People in Struggle party, which held a majority in parliament.

                  "What other way do you want him to rule? There is a country, there are only
                  nine senators, and there is a president who has the constitutional
                  responsibility of seeing to the stability of the country," he said.

                  Longchamp said Preval's government was not responsible for the vacuum in
                  parliament. Haiti has not had a prime minister since Rosny Smarth resigned
                  in June 1997, with parliament rejecting Preval's first three nominations for the

                  Only 5 percent of eligible voters participated in the April 1997 vote for
                  municipal and legislative offices. And fraud allegations prevented the winners
                  from taking their seats.

                  Longchamp said Prime Minister-designate Jacques Edouard Alexis, Preval's
                  most recent nominee, was officially prime minister although his policy
                  program had not been set before lawmakers for a vote. Legislators say
                  Alexis cannot take office until his program is approved by parliament.

                  "He is going to be a care-taker government, until such time as there is an
                  approved policy program," Longchamp said.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.