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16571: Karshan: Haiti presses on with poll despite boycott (Financial Times) (fwd)



From: MKarshan@aol.com

The Financial Times

Haiti presses on with poll despite boycott
By Canute James in Kingston
Published: August 27 2003 22:23 | Last Updated: August 27 2003 22:23


Haiti will go ahead with elections this year, even though the US and local
opposition say President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's administration has not met the
conditions necessary for a fair vote.


The elections are an attempt to end a three-year political impasse that has
cut off vital economic assistance to the Caribbean state, the poorest in the
western hemisphere.

The country has been politically paralysed since disputed legislative
elections three years ago. Opposition parties and foreign observers said
vote-counting in some districts was manipulated to benefit Mr Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas
party.

Alix Lamarque, president of the electoral council, said preparations were
being made for elections in November and December. The terms of two-thirds of the
legislators expire in January.

But the US embassy in Port-au-Prince said the elections would not meet the
conditions of an agreement reached a year ago between Haiti and the Organisation
of American States.

Convergence Democratique, a coalition of 15 Haitian opposition parties, said
it would boycott the election.

"We will be under a threat of violence, so our supporters will be afraid to
vote, making the event a farce that will again benefit the government," said an
opposition spokesman.

The opposition has also refused to name any delegates to the electoral
council, a body that the US said must be created "by consensus and not by unilateral
action".

Mr Aristide's administration has promised to establish an independent council
to administer elections and to reform the country's small, poorly trained and
ill-equipped police force.

The government has also pledged to disarm its supporters. Prospective donors
and creditors have withheld Haiti's access to hundreds of millions of dollars
that the country desperately needs, pending the implementation of reforms.

The country was given about $50m (?45.5m, 31m) last month to help fund
public health and education as part of a $146m Inter-American Development Bank loan
that was frozen after the elections. The government paved the way for access
to the funds by using foreign reserves to pay $32m in arrears to the IADB.

However, access to more funds will not be helped by uncertainty about public
safety. Government officials dispute a US report that accused officials of
paying thugs to attack a recent meeting of civic leaders. Several people were
injured when the meeting - called to discuss law and order - was attacked by a
stone-throwing mob.

The government maintains the opposition's refusal to co-operate over the
electoral council is frustrating election planning.

"I can understand if the US says that the opposition must take part in the
electoral council, but what is important is that Haiti wants elections in order
to prevent an institutional void," says Gerald Gilles, a government senator.

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