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800,000 Voter Registration Cards Stolen Ahead of Haiti Elections

May 26, 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Thieves have stolen 800,000 voter registration cards in an attempt to upset legislative and local elections scheduled for next month, the electoral council said.

But the vote will take place on June 25 as planned, council president Anselme Remy insisted, responding to concerns by U.N. officials that the election, already postponed twice, might be put off again.

``There is a sector that doesn’t want elections to take place,″ Remy said in a radio broadcast Thursday. ``The aim of the people who have (stolen) the cards is to prevent people who want to vote from voting.″

Thieves also could influence election results by using the cards to vote for their chosen candidates.

The elections are a crucial test of Haiti’s fledgling democracy. Any question about their fairness could upset the already fragile security in a nation dogged by military and civilian dictators.

On Tuesday, former legislator Benoit Laguerre was arrested and charged with illegal possession of nearly 100 voter registration cards. Laguerre supported the army coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1991.

Aristide was restored to power last October by a U.S.-led multinational force, which was replaced March 31 with a U.N. mission.

U.N. officials expressed concern this week that the elections, already postponed twice, would be put off again because the council was late publishing a definitive list of candidates.

``The electoral council is holding elections, not the United Nations,″ Remy said Thursday, insisting the first round would take place June 25. A runoff is scheduled for July 23.

The council, swamped by nearly 12,000 applications, published a final list of candidates Wednesday, nine days late, including more than 100 who had been previously rejected. The council deemed about 2,000 candidates ineligible, including many active participants in the 1957-1986 Duvalier family dictatorship.

Candidates are contesting all 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the 27-seat Senate, and thousands of positions in 133 mayoral and 565 township councils.

It will take about a month to print ballots, which must bear candidates’ photographs and party emblems since most Haitians are illiterate. It will take another week to distribute the ballots.

The deadline for voter registration was extended for a month to Tuesday. The council discovered the missing 800,000 cards when it took an inventory of the 4.2 million cards distributed to lower-level electoral offices last month, Remy said.

He named no suspects and gave no other details, but promised the council would print more cards. An estimated 3.6 million of Haiti’s 7 million people are eligible to vote.

The council recently announced more than 3 million voters had registered, a figure met with skepticism because of nationwide reports of buying and selling of registration cards.

Presidential elections are scheduled for December.

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