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Haiti prepares for peaceful elections

December 16, 1995
Web posted at: 12:25 p.m. EST (1725 GMT)

From Correspondent Lucia Newman

GONAIVES, Haiti (CNN) -- For Sunday's presidential election in Haiti, no effort is being spared. The United Nations peacekeeping force, which will leave the Caribbean island after the February 7 inauguration of the winner, is going out of its way to ensure that ballots reach every corner of the country.

Aristide

If the campaign has been lackluster, perhaps it is because the real crowd drawer, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is the man many Haitians would rather see remain in power.

Barred by the Haitian constitution and by fierce U.S. pressure from serving another term, Aristide waited until Friday morning to endorse his party's candidate -- the message many had been waiting for.

"I'm going to vote for the Table, for the candidate of the Table," Aristide said at a rally in Jacmel. The Table is the symbol of Aristide's party.

The man now almost certain to win is Aristide's ally and former primer minister Rene Preval, considered by some as more radical than the leftist president. Though he is clearly riding on Aristide's popularity, he dislikes the comparison.

Preval

"I resent the notion of being the heir to Aristide," said Preval. "I think the Haitian people are mature enough to make a choice."

And the choice seems popular. A recent poll in Haiti showed Leon Jeune distantly trailing Preval in the election, taking 15 percent of the vote to Preval's 64 percent.

"Aristide is a good president," said one voter. "That's why I'm going to push for Preval."

"I'm voting for Preval for more security, for more jobs and for the continuation of the policy of President Aristide," said another.

While 14 parties are taking place in the race, most major opposition groups are boycotting the poll, claiming conditions are unfair. Aristide denies that charge.

"I did my best to help the opposition because without opposition how can we talk about democracy," he said. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound)

Election violence

The election campaign has been remarkably peaceful by Haitian standards. The only serious incident was an attack on the house of Jeune by unknown gunmen.

Chief topics on the minds of Haiti's electorate are obvious: more jobs, food, and security for hemisphere's most impoverished nation.

"I'm going to vote so the country gets better because everyday things are getting worse," one woman said.

Haitians are accustomed to often-unkept promises, but there is something significant about Sunday.

If all goes as planned, the election will allow for the first transfer of power from one elected government to another since Haiti's independence from France in 1804. And that is not a small feat for a country well versed in dictatorships and political violence.



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