Polls Open Without Incident
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Haitians jammed polling places at daybreak Sunday to cast their ballots in the first democratic presidential election since the Election Day massacre of 1987.
Many polling places opened late, but no incidents were reported.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were among foreign observers at the Argentine Bellegarde secondary school, where 14 people died on Nov. 29, 1987. Thugs shot and hacked to death 34 people during the voting that day and forced elections to be canceled.
″We wanted to come here as a symobolic thing to show the people of Haiti that it’s safe to vote today,″ Carter said.
The polls opened at 6 a.m. and were to close at 6 p.m.
Haitians voted for president and elected 110 members of a bicameral National Assembly, 134 mayors, 268 municipal council members and 1,695 county officials.
Runoff elections will be held in late January in races in which no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
The government on Saturday closed the Dominican border and barred civilians from carrying weapons. Officials gave no reason for the border closure, but there has been talk of worry about the possibility of armed mercenaries crossing the border to disrupt the election.
The army urged ″calm and serenity″ and said it would take whatever measures necessary to ensure a safe election.
The government, led by President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, also prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages during the election period and restricted traffic on Sunday to cars with election permits and a few bus and taxi companies.
On Saturday, white vans flying blue-and-white United Nations flags ferried international election monitors around the city.
Police stopped cars on John Brown Avenue, the main thoroughfare, and checked for registration papers, but the security forces were mostly out of sight.
There were 800 international observers in Haiti for the elections.
″It looks, as far as anyone can tell, A-OK,″ said Ismael Diallo of the African nation of Burkina Faso, spokesman for the 130-member U.N. monitoring team, which includes 64 unarmed military security advisers.
″I regret now that I didn’t register to vote in October, but I was too afraid,″ said Huguette Pierre, 24, an unemployed switchboard operator.
Haiti’s last attempt to hold democratic elections, on Nov. 29, 1987, was aborted when assassins supported by the army shot and hacked to death at least 34 people at polling stations and in the streets.
Subsequent elections in January 1988 were controlled by the army and boycotted by most leading contenders in the previous election.
The only disturbance so far in this campaign was a grenade-and-bomb attack Dec. 5 that killed seven people and wounded more than 50 others at a campaign rally for the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the apparent front-runner among the 11 presidential candidates.
The Electoral Council, revising earlier estimates, said Saturday that 2,970,000 people, or about 90 percent of those eligible, were registered to vote.
The Electoral Council said it did not expect to release any results before noon Monday.
Aristide, a leftist Roman Catholic priest with a large following among the majority poor, was considered a front-runner.
Although the army has pledged to ensure a smooth election, sympathizers of the fallen 29-year Duvalier dictatorship oppose any move toward democratic government.
Last week, the self-proclaimed head of the Tonton Macoute militia vowed to prevent an Aristide victory.
″We will do everything to prevent this danger,″ said Roger Lafontant, who himself was barred from contesting the election. ″My country will never be delivered to communism.″
The Tonton Macoutes violently enforced the Duvalier dictatorship for 29 years.
Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean nation of 6 million people, has been ruled almost exclusively by despots since gaining independence from France in 1804 after a slave revolt.
Aristide, 37, was expelled from his ecclesiastical order in 1988 for allegedly preaching class struggle.
Another popular condidate is former World Bank official Marc Bazin, seen as a favorite of the Bush administration because of his international business ties.
Aristide’s anti-imperialist rhetoric has made U.S. officials wary. But he has presented a moderate, though somewhat vague, election platform calling for a ″dignified″ relationship between the two countries.