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Haitian candidates say Aristide’s party hired gunmen, used force

April 9, 1997

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Although the United States has declared the weekend election fair, two candidates claim former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s party used gunmen to threaten voters and frighten a rival.

Senate candidate Serge Pierre-Louis, also a spokesman for Premier Rosny Smarth, accused Aristide’s Lavalas Family party of trying to influence Sunday’s election just like former Haitian dictators.

``It was a Duvalierist-style election,″ Pierre-Louis said Tuesday at a news conference. ``It’s clear a civilian-military coup d’etat is taking place in the country.″

The secretary of the Chamber of Deputies, Rep. Ronald Desormes, said that armed men threatened to kill him for denouncing election fraud in his district, the west-central Artibonite Valley District.

Desormes and Pierre-Louis said gunmen tried to intimidate voters to elect Aristide candidates in Artibonite and in the southern district. Two former army officers _ former army Capt. Medard Joseph and ex-Col. Fourel Celestin _ were running for the Senate as Lavalas Family candidates in the districts.

Neither Aristide’s party nor President Rene Preval’s government have responded to the claims, or other opposition fraud accusations and calls for the election to be annulled.

At stake in the election is an economic program tied to tens of million of dollars in foreign aid. Aristide’s party could win enough seats in the parliament to challenge the program, as it has threatened to do.

Most Haitians did not vote Sunday, snubbing the government and elected representatives who passed the economic plan in October that raised living costs and threatens thousands of jobs.

Sunday’s elections were for nine of 27 Senate seats, two seats in the Chamber of Deputies and thousands of officers for 697 district councils.

Definitive results are not expected until May 2, Alexandre Lavaud, head of the Provisional Electoral Council, said Tuesday. Results had been expected by April 16 _ or earlier since so few Haitians voted.

Lavaud did not say why the vote count would be delayed.

International observers have estimated turnout at little more than 5 percent of Haiti’s 2 million registered voters.

Three Lavalas Party candidates are from the military, all officers who were loyal to Aristide and went into exile with him when he was ousted by the army in 1991, a year after he was elected.

The United States, which sent troops in 1994 to end three years of military terror and halt a flood of refugees to Florida, has declared the elections free and fair.

``In a democracy one cannot force a citizen to vote,″ U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mary Ellen Gilroy told Radio Metropole.

Some opposition leaders accused the United States of hypocrisy.

``The United States cannot admit its investment in Haitian democracy has turned out to be a failure,″ said historian Michel Soukar.