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First Post-Quake Election Campaign Opens In Haiti

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Campaigning is getting under way in Haiti's first election since the devastating January earthquake, amid security concerns and with many of the country's 4.5 million eligible voters living in refugee camps.

The Organization of American States is preparing to deploy observer missions to monitor the Haiti vote.
Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for November 28 in a country still recovering from a massive quake that killed at least 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

"I hope this election doesn't become a battleground, where aggressive campaigners try to destroy their rivals instead of expounding their ideas," outgoing President Rene Preval said Sunday.

Preval, who served two consecutive five-year terms in office and cannot run for reelection, fears there could be unrest during the two-month campaign and vote-counting irregularities later.

"We've got enough candidates for these elections: 850 for 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 95 for 11 seats in the Senate and 19 for president," Preval said.

"What I'm afraid of is low voter participation and security problems," he said.

Visiting Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said there needed to be a high voter turnout in the election so the international community can deal in future with a government that has strong legitimacy.

Preval, however, had misgivings about the upcoming election.

"Voters disappointed with the political system, people displaced by the earthquake and the many who are suffering, perhaps aren't too concerned about voting," he said.

While in refugee camps people sometimes crowd around voting registration booths, most still appear undecided about their role in the vote.

"We still don't have a candidate to support in this election; we don't see anybody we can vote for," said Elvire, a refugee camp management committee member.

The provisional electoral council (CEP) has authorized 19 candidates to run in the presidential election. It rejected all Haitians living abroad, including hip hop star Wyclef Jean and his uncle Raymond Joseph, who is Haiti's ambassador to the United States.

Candidates include Jude Celestin -- endorsed by Preval -- former prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, and singer Michel Martelly.

For the international community, the main concerns are boycott by some opposition parties, and the lack of credibility of the provisional electoral council (CEP), whose members are suspected of being to close to the government.

Some social groups recently wrote UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking that he use his influence to postpone the elections, which they said "could trigger a new political crisis in the country."

But for international observers Haiti is ready for elections nine months after the January 12 earthquake.

The Organization of American States (OAS) and the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are preparing to deploy bit observer missions during the vote.

Donor countries have financed 90 percent of the 29 million dollar budget for the vote, which they hope will be "democratic and transparent," Kouchner said.

Preval said he has asked former French prime minister Lionel Jospin to send election experts to train Haitian voting officials, to help minimize security problems on voting day.

"We don't have enough police, less than 10,000 for a country of eight million people, and the UN forces who can help us don't speak Creole or French," he added.

There are 13,000 soldiers and police with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). It is also assisted by 2,000 civilians.

In a September 2 report, MINUSTAH said it had "noted an increasing number of weapons in circulation, especially in traditionally high crime areas" of Port-Au-Prince.

"In addition, there is a risk that campaigning for the forthcoming elections -- particularly the legislative -- may be tainted by financing from illegal activities, including the drug trade which continues to be a destabilizing factor in Haiti."

SOURCE: AFP
Clarens Renois

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