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28337: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-Elections (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By STEVENSON JACOBS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 22 -- Low voter turnout marked Haiti's runoff
vote for a new parliament, indicating President-elect Rene Preval may have
to work hard to reach out to rivals in forming a new government and keep
the country on the path to democracy.
Friday's race for 127 parliamentary seats -- 97 deputies and 30 senators
-- was billed as the final step restoring democracy to poorest nation in
the Americas two years after an armed revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand
But low turnout contrasted sharply with the frenzied Feb. 7 presidential
race and first-round legislative election, in which throngs of eager voters
braved long lines to elect Preval, who has vowed to work to bring peace and
jobs to the traumatized nation. He takes power next month.
"I don't have a job and can't feed my kids or send them to school, so
hopefully this government will give us a chance for a better life," said
Espira St. Fleur, 56.
He was among several hundred people voting in a polling center in the
Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, where some election workers sat idle in
front of half-empty ballot boxes as they waited for voters.
One person was shot and killed in polling violence in the northern town
of Grand Saline, said Max Mathurin, president of Haiti's electoral council.
He did not give further details.
In the same town, people broke into two polling stations and burned an
unknown number of ballots, said David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the U.N.
peacekeeping mission sent to restore order after Aristide's ouster.
Meanwhile in the capital, voting went smoothly except for isolated
incidents of voter fraud and intimidation, officials said. Some voters in
the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil grew angry after being told they
could not cast ballots because they were not on the voting list.
"Historically there's not a lot of turnout for legislative elections" in
Haiti, said Wimhurst.
Preval's Lespwa party will likely take the most seats, but the
63-year-old agronomist needs to form a coalition government since no party
has enough candidates to win a majority.
The party or coalition with the most parliamentary seats gets to choose
the prime minister, who acts as head of government and appoints Cabinet
members and most administrative posts.
Daniel Erikson, a Haiti expert with the Washington-based Inter-American
Dialogue, said the likely prospect of a divided parliament means Preval
will have to reach out to rival parties for support.
"Preval's honeymoon will almost certainly be very short," Erikson said.
Friday's race included a broad array of candidates, including members of
Aristide's center-left Lavalas party and former rebels who helped oust him.
The head of a European Union observation team called the vote largely
fair and free of the problems that plagued the Feb. 7 first round. Only two
candidates won seats in that round.
"Overall, it's a big improvement over the first round," European
Parliament member Johan Van Hecke said.
Haiti has not had a functioning parliament since 2003.