April 22, 2006

Haiti begins tally after low-turnout vote

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti slowly began to
collect tally sheets on Saturday after a parliamentary election
that drew few voters but avoided most of the violence that has
marred past attempts at democracy.

UN troops began bringing tally sheets back from remote
towns and villages to the vote counting center in the capital
Port-au-Prince, said Max Mathurin, head of the Provisional
Electoral Council in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

"Some have already arrived at the tabulation center but we
probably won't start talking about figures till Monday,"
Mathurin told Reuters.

Friday's second-round vote to pick 97 of 99 members of the
Chamber of Deputies and 30 senators will decide whether
President-elect Rene Preval, who won a first-round victory on
February 7, will have enough sway with parliament and the next
prime minister to govern effectively.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has been
afflicted by dictatorships, political violence and poverty for
most of its 202 years.

Preval's predecessor as president, former Roman Catholic
priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in February 2004
while facing an armed revolt amid accusations of corruption and

Haiti has been run since then by an unelected interim
authority while UN troops and police have tried to maintain
peace between Aristide's supporters in the sprawling slums and
the wealthy elite, who opposed him and now also harbor deep
suspicions about Preval.

One person was shot dead on Friday by a relative who
supported a rival candidate, police said. Turnout was extremely
low at an estimated 15 percent of registered voters, European
Union electoral observers said.

The sporadic reports of scuffles and demonstrations
reported by election officials suggested a relatively
problem-free election compared to past ballots, when gunmen
massacred voters as they stood in line.

Many people complained they had been turned away from
voting stations because they had been registered in other
districts. It was unclear how widespread the problem was.

Voters and politicians also complained that polling
stations closed on time at 4 p.m. During the first-round
election in February, huge crowds persuaded authorities to keep
some voting centers open into the evening and many Haitians
said they had expected the same to happen this time.

"This is a flagrant violation of the citizen's civil and
political rights," said Renan Hedouville, head of the Lawyers
Committee for Individual Rights, also known as CARLI.

"This was a well-planned strategy by authorities together
with the electoral council to prevent a group of people from
participating in the runoff," he said.

Hedouville suggested that a low turnout would hurt the
chances Preval supporters because much of their support came
from the poor.