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From editor@haiti-progres.com Fri Dec 1 09:43:23 2000
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2000 09:11:09 -0600 (CST)
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Subject: This Week in Haiti 18:37 11/29/00
Article: 110160
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Massive turn-out foils electoral coup d'etat...for now

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti
Vol. 18 no. 10, 24-30 May 2000

The Lavalas Family (FL), the party headed by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has swept Haiti's legislative and municipal elections throughout most of the country, according to a highly placed electoral official, who asked to remain anonymous.

That outcome was augured by random exit polls conducted by journalists at various voting stations (BVs) around Haiti during the May 21st election. Only in the departments of the Northwest and Central Plateau did there appear to be doubt that FL candidates would win most of the posts up for grabs, the electoral official said.

There may be some surprises too, according to the source. For instance, it seems likely that Mirlande Manigat, the wife of former military-installed president Leslie Manigat and candidate of his National Democratic Patriotic Assembly (RDNP), will win a Senate seat in the Western department, which includes Port-au- Prince.

Due to political struggles, voting in the Grande Anse department, the westernmost tip of Haiti's lower lip, will not be held until May 28. The island of Gonârve will also have its elections at a later date due to political challenges which effectively thwarted the vote there.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that more than 60% of the four million-odd registered voters turned out to pick from among 29,490 candidates running to fill the seats of 19 senators, 83 deputies, 133 mayors, and 7000 local assembly representatives. This is the largest voter participation since the Dec. 1990 elections which brought Aristide to power.

Many in the FL, along with other progressive parties and popular organizations, had feared that shortages of electoral cards, meddling by the U.S. State Department, and election-related violence would restrict voter participation. This electoral coup d'état was overcome, however, when the Haitian people braved threats, pre-election bombings, and alarming media reports to turn-out to vote in droves.

Despite a late and chaotic start, the polling proceeded with relatively little violence or disruptions, thanks in large part to the patience of voters who waited for hours in long lines. Many Bvs, which were supposed to open at 6 a.m., did not do so until late morning or early afternoon. Even President René Préval had to return to his local BV later in the day to vote since it was closed in the morning. As a result of such delays, the polling period was extended past the 5 p.m. deadline.

Nonetheless, [t]he vast majority of BVs we observed received materials on time and were able to begin functioning with ample time to cast their ballots, reported the International Coalition of Independent Observers (ICIO).

Before the vote, the ICIO had expressed concern that voters would not be able to find the Bvs where they had to vote since the CEP did a poor job of publicizing their locations. In several instances we did witness voters turned away from BV and BV staff unable to redirect them, the ICIO wrote in its post-election report. But BV employees were overwhelmingly helpful, consulting with voters in line to be sure they were in the right location, and in the areas we observed most people seemed able to find their BV.

The 3,500 police officers deployed to provide security for the 11,200 Bvs did a good job overall. The only fatalities occurred in the town of Croix de Bouquets, about six miles north of the capital, when policeman Abellard Clervil tried to calm a man who was becoming excited at a BV. The man drew a gun and shot Clervil twice in the chest. Other cops returned fire, killing the gunman. Officer Clervil died later from his wounds.

There were some other violent incidents. The night before the election, someone lobbed a Molotov cocktail at Lafanmi Selavi, the orphanage founded by Aristide. Three days earlier, someone threw a grenade at the CEP headquarters, injuring seven people. The day after the election, a Port-au-Prince mayoral candidate of the Assembly of Patriotic Citizens (RCP) was apparently hit in the head by a rock and killed during a scuffle between his partisans and others purporting to be from the FL.

There were several arrests in different parts of the country during the election, mostly of troublemakers at Bvs or of people carrying legal guns, which were banned during the electoral weekend. The police also closed the border with the Dominican Republic, the airport, and most public transport (except for state-sponsored Service Plus buses). Motorcycles, most bandits' vehicles of choice, were strictly forbidden to circulate, and non-essential traffic was also curtailed.

One of the worst vote-counting abnormalities happened in Port-au- Prince. Boxes of marked and blank ballots were left out on Rue Pavée where the Departmental Electoral Office (BED) is located. Thousands of these ballots were littered in the street, being driven on by cars and blown by the wind, said Radio Canada reporter Guy Jeandron, who surveyed the scene at about 8 a.m. on the day after the elections. Many of the boxes and envelopes containing the marked ballots had been torn open.

A Canadian election consultant, Jean-Paul Poirier, told the AP that he organized election workers to recuperate about 90% of the errant ballots. One CEP official belittled the matter, saying that the ballots were already counted and not required for any recount.

The 200 or so international observers universally assessed the elections as satisfactory, praising the large turn-out and saying that the delays and logistical problems seemed minor. The ICIO reported that voters were able to participate without fear at over 100 Bvs they visited. A U.S. Congressional observer delegation led by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) was also upbeat, if circumspect. Though we do not presume to paint the entire picture, or draw any firm