Haiti Archives 1995-1996
28/06/95 HAITI-U.S.: Clinton administration defends vote
Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.

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/AT EDS: Pls relate the following item to the article run earlier from Port-au-Prince, entitled HAITI-POLITICS: Major Parties Lambaste Electoral Council/

WASHINGTON, Jun 27 (IPS) – The administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton issued a strong defence here Tuesday of Sunday's controversial elections in Haiti.

The head of the administration's delegation, J. Brian Atwood, told reporters at the State Department that the elections amounted to a ''very significant breakthrough for democracy.'' He added thatis observers detected no evidence of ''any systematic effort to commit fraud.''

Atwood, who is also chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said much of the confusion and long delays which characterised polling in a number of regions was due to the decision to permit thousands of people to register to vote after the original mid-May deadline.

Eventual registration reached about 90 percent of all eligible voters, a record Atwood said was a ''very positive sign.''

''The problems then became, do we have enough ballots to accommodate the many thousands that registered after (the deadline), and in many cases they were not able to open polling places because materials didn't arrive,'' he said.

Atwood also absolved the electoral council, which has been widely assailed by opposition parties and observers from the International Republican Institute (IRI), of bad faith.

''Despite earlier allegations about the electoral council,'' Atwood said, ''we do not believe that (it) tried in any way to influence the results of this election in a way that would favour a single party.''

The holding of the elections — the first national poll since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide won almost 70 percent of the vote in 1990 — was the key goal of the Clinton administration after it led the U.N.-authorised military intervention against the army- backed regime last September.

USAID also had much invested in the success of the elections. It has devoted about ten million dollars to the elections which were also supported by the United Nations Electoral Assistance Unit and the Organisation of American States.

The U.S.-led military intervention, which ended three years of military rule, was strongly criticised by most of the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress.

Many Republicans argued that Aristide, who spent most of his three-year exile from Haiti in Washington, was a dangerous radical and demagogue who would turn the Caribbean nation into a dictatorship if he returned as president.

Aristide's political opponents — especially those who supported the military regime — expressed similar fears, both before the U.S. intervention and in the run-up to the election.

Some of Aristide's former supporters joined the attacks during and immediately after the actual election. Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, who is rumoured to be Washington's preferred candidate to succeed Aristide in presidential elections in December, charged Monday his party's victories on Sunday were being stolen by vote- stuffing and fraudulent counting.

Paul, a leader of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), cast doubt on whether his party would accept the elections. Lavalas, a party of grassroots groups organised around Aristide's 1990 campaign, is believed to have been the major victor in Sunday's balloting.

U.S. Rep. Porter Goss, who headed the observer delegation from the International Republican Institute (IRI), also suggested possible fraud in the kind of irregularities that were reported Sunday.

At a press conference in Port-au-Prince Monday, Goss said his delegates had seen intimidation of politicians and the burning down of a voting centre in Limbe. In the capital, he added, IRI observers saw the voting lists tampered with and ballots ''being substituted with newly marked ballots.''

''This raises the serious possibility of the political manipulation of this election,'' he said.

Goss softened his assessment somewhat Monday night in an appearance with Atwood on U.S. television. He stressed that the fact that the voting took place at all was ''an achievement,'' although one IRI official here said Tuesday that ''the vote counting is not going well.''

Atwood admitted Tuesday there were major problems in the vote, but stressed that the electoral council itself was moving to repair the damages.

In six regions where voting stations never opened and another in which all the ballots were burned before the election, new voting is being arranged for July 23 or before, according to Atwood. In addition, he said the electoral council has invited all parties to observe the counting of ballot boxes which had been sent to the wrong destination and later discovered by observers and the press.

In all, he said, the effect of the irregularities on the ultimate results, which may take a week to ten days to complete, are likely to be ''minimal.''

''I think that in the vast majority of electoral districts the results will be accepted,'' he predicted. ''In some cases, the election may have to be rerun.''

Mike Barnes, Aristide's attorney here during his exile, also praised the elections as ''wonderful.''

They were the first elections ever in Haiti which were virtually free of violence, hf said, an accomplishment that stands not only in stark contrast to the country's history, but also to the election record of Haiti's neighbour, the Dominican Republic.

''This has been another step in what has been an enomrous success for the administration,'' said Barnes, a former Democratic congressman.(END/IPS/JL/95)

Origin: Washington/HAITI-U.S./

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