Second round of voting gets off to a slow start
Posted on Sat, Apr. 22, 2006
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Polls opened and closed on time, and election workers were much better organized for the second round of Haitian elections. But only a small number of the country's 3.5 million voters turned out Friday for legislative elections.
The day was a sharp contrast from Feb. 7, when large crowds came out for the first round of balloting for the presidency and the legislature, overwhelming election workers and threatening to send the politically troubled country further into chaos.
Traditionally, Haitians have always placed greater emphasis on presidential races even though Haiti's constitution gives greater power to the prime minister, who is approved by parliament. That, along with a lack of campaigning, may have affected balloting for virtually all 129 seats in the legislature.
Political analysts and observers said the lack of interest should not be taken as a reflection of the legitimacy of the new parliament, which would be Haiti's first functioning legislature since 1997.
''This parliament is going to be coming from a process that is fair, that wasn't stolen or ripe with fraud,'' said political analyst Lionel Delatour. ``
While we would have preferred to have voter turnout higher, it's a reflection of what the people wanted.''
Still, Eric Gaillard, a statistician who has been studying possible election outcomes, said the low turnout and large number of political parties in the contest could make it difficult for Haitian President-elect René Préval, who will have to form a coalition government because no single party will be able to win control of parliament.
'I am optimistic in the sense that I think we are moving forward. I think we are learning from our past mistakes, and I think for good governance we have to go through this process,'' he said.
Haiti has been in crisis and under an unelected interim government since a violent revolt in 2004 ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Friday's election was critical to the country's return to democracy. Official results are expected by next Friday, but as they are tallied, they will be posted at www.cep-ht.org. The site will be updated every two hours, election officials said.
Still, the day was not without violence, especially in the Artibonite Valley north of Port-au-Prince, where voting was canceled after voters invaded a polling station and began ripping up ballots, said Jacques Bernard, director general of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council.
Bernard said this is the second time that violence disrupted the voting in that town, Grande Saline, one of the 37 ''trouble spots'' where electoral officials and U.N. peacekeepers had deployed extra patrols to avert violence.
Almost two hours after the center was shut down, an unidentified person pulled out a gun and started firing, killing one man and wounding another, Bernard said.
In Verrettes, also in the Artibonite, elections observer Maurice Mac Michel was shot and wounded by a candidate for the lower chamber, Bernard said.
''In Port-au-Prince, it was very quiet,'' said Bernard. ``In the countryside, passions really went high.''
Despite the incidents and low voter turnout, Bernard said he was ''very, very satisfied'' with the vote.
That sense of optimism was also seen among voters.
'I am voting to get out of the mess we are in. Usually people don't take these races seriously, but this time I want to give a chance to Préval,'' said Fauche Baptiste, 49, as he voted in Port-au-Prince.
Putting her parliamentary vote more bluntly, Manouchka Philidor, 22, said, ``I am voting to give the head [Préval] a body.''
Herald Writer Chantal Regnault contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince.
Turnout Low in Haitian Runoff Vote
By Stevenson Jacobs
Saturday, April 22, 2006; A18
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, April 21 -- Polling stations were nearly empty Friday in a crucial legislative runoff intended to give the poorest country in the Americas its first popularly elected government since a revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago.
The race for 127 parliamentary seats -- 97 deputies and 30 senators -- will determine the level of legislative support for President-elect Rene Preval, who has vowed to work to bring peace and jobs to the traumatized country. Preval takes office 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.
St. Fleur was among several hundred people voting in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, where some election workers sat idle in front of half-empty ballot boxes.
Officials said the election was largely free and fair. 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. 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.
Results of the runoff are expected in about a week.
The vote contrasted sharply with the frenzied presidential and first-round legislative elections, in which throngs of voters waited in huge lines and chaotic polling stations to elect Preval, a former president and onetime Aristide ally.
Only two candidates won seats in the Feb. 7 first round.
Under Haiti's constitution, the party or coalition with the most parliamentary seats chooses the prime minister, who acts as head of government and appoints cabinet members and administrative posts.
Preval's Lespwa party is expected to capture the most seats, but no party has enough candidates to win a majority, meaning Preval will need to forge a coalition government.
Daniel Erikson, a Haiti expert with the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, said the prospect of a divided parliament means Preval will reach out to rivals.
"Preval's honeymoon will almost certainly be very short," Erikson said.
A strong showing for Preval's party would boost his legislative agenda to rebuild Haiti, which has been battered by gang violence, the closure of many textile factories and high unemployment since the February 2004 uprising that forced out Aristide.
Haiti has not had a functioning parliament since early 2004 and observers said a huge amount of work will be needed to get it running.
"There's no staff," Erikson said. "There's very little in the way of physical facilities. This is basically starting from scratch." :?