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Haitians would have preferred Aristide, go to the polls in low numbers

December 17, 1995
Web posted at: 11:05 p.m. EST (0405 GMT)

From Correspondent Lucia Newman

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- Haitians went to the polls Sunday, hoping for the first peaceful transition of power in the country since independence nearly two hundred years ago.

Haitian voter

"I think democracy is all about be sure that one elected president gives up to another elected president," said Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States. "That is why for the democratic process in Haiti, it is so important." (132K AIFF sound or 132K WAV sound)

Even with the stakes for democracy so high, the turnout was light. Many Haitians resent that their constitution and pressure from Washington haven't allowed their immensely popular president Jean Bertrand Aristide to remain in power.

The consolation is Rene Preval -- known as Aristide's ideological twin -- who is expected to win by a landslide.

"We wanted Aristide but Preval will follow the same ideas, we're sure," said one voter.

Haitians are asking for the same politics but a different life.

"I came to vote but I'm starving," said one man. "I can't pay my rent. I came to vote hoping that things will change.

Pres. Aristide Rene Preval

"There is a lot of misery in Haiti," he said. "The Haitians voted for democracy but they want that democracy to give them something tangible. They want to be able to send their children to hospitals."

But Sunday's elections were, for the first time in Haiti, peaceful. Only an attempted breakout by prisoners at a Port au Prince jail distracted police from the elections momentarily.

But with the help of U.N. peace-keepers in charge of maintaining security, the voting process itself was largely free of the violence and chaos that have characterized so many other elections here.

"I think a lot of skeptics in Washington thought this day would never come," said Brian Atwood, chief of the U.S. observer delegation. "This demonstrates the success of a very successful transition to democracy."

But elections alone won't be enough. The next major test will be in February when Haiti's new president is inaugurated and U.N. peace keepers withdraw. And many seriously question whether Haiti's new government will be able to stand alone and insure stability in a country historically plagued by military dictatorships and political upheaval.

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