Haiti Passes an Election Test, Barely Breaking Cycle of Corruption, Dictatorships, Vote Paves Way for Presidential Elections

Article excerpt

WORKING by candlelight around the clock under chaotic conditions, Haiti's small army of ballot counters is building a picture of democracy, vote by vote.

Last Sunday's parliamentary, municipal, and local elections - the first since democracy was restored last October - have sent a signal to the world that Haiti has successfully broken with a tradition of corruption and dictatorships. And it paves the way for the presidential elections, due in December.

While results straggle in from distant countryside polling places, a stand-off on their legitimacy is developing between political parties and the official electoral board.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) overseeing the entire process admits that problems - lack of voting material, arson in polling stations, and incomplete ballots - have marred Sunday's elections. Yet overall, the eight-member council says, the elections were a success.

"Elections were held according to the law," insists Council president Anselme Remy, deflecting criticism of partisanship and incompetence. "They were honest and democratic."

"We have a better environment today than last year," President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said, backing the CEP. "Last year we had guns killing people, this year we have ballots."

Prominent political party leaders, however, disagree. At least three parties have asked that the elections be annulled, accusing members from other parties of fraud and "magouy," a Creole word loosely translated as monkey-business.

"It's clear these weren't honest elections," says incumbent senatorial candidate Turneb Delpe, party member of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), the coalition under whose banner Mr. Aristide came to power in 1990, but which he no longer supports.

"People may have voted freely, but then our political party observers were chased away, and ballot boxes confiscated. Is this democratic?" asks Mr. Delpe.

Reports of fraud

At the Port-au-Prince Department Electoral Bureau, where FNCD members say there was "massive fraud" Sunday evening, dozens of torn cardboard ballot boxes are stacked in disarray. Used ballots and torn registration lists litter the floor.

"There was no fraud here," said Raymond Eugene, vice-president of the Communal Electoral Bureau. His office is responsible for 1,388 polling stations, each of which employed five people on election day. "It was just that there were a huge number of people all bringing their results in to us at once."

There have been scattered incidents of electoral violence, including the death on Monday of an FNCD candidate for deputy in a southwest district, six cases of arson at voting stations, and the arrest of several dozen people attempting to disrupt the voting process. …