Haiti Prepares for Presidential Elections

Haiti is preparing for its first presidential elections since the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Registration has begun in a number of cities. The vote is scheduled for November, but election organizers already are warning that the process has been plagued with delays.

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Haiti is preparing for the first presidential election since the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Voter registration has begun in a number of cities. The vote doesn't come until November, and election organizers are already warning that the process has been plagued with delays. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

Inside the registration office in this sleepy seaside town of Jacmel, a few men and women sit down to fill out a form for their election identity card. Jacmel is a place of blue water and an unhurried pace of life. There are few security concerns here. Locals make jokes that United Nations peacekeeping forces are more like lifeguards than soldiers, spending most of their days at the beach. Joseph Roselle(ph) is a 27-year-old student who says he feels it's his duty to vote in the coming elections, but he says he feels he might be in the minority.

Mr. JOSEPH ROSELLE (Student): (Through Translator) The people organizing the elections insist on the importance of the elections because of these difficult times. People are going through calamities and they might not give it much importance. It is not their fault, it is their situation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Haitians have been down this road before. Being told to hope, they've repeatedly faced instead broken promises and political turbulence. Since 2004, when elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted, Haitians have been governed by an interim administration. Jacmel registration coordinator Michel Vilant(ph) says that while there's a lot of pressure to get these elections right, things have not begun well.

Mr. MICHEL VILANT (Registration Coordinator): (Through Translator) It's going very slow, extremely slow, mostly because there hasn't yet been a civic information campaign, the campaign to motivate people to come and register as a group. In the past 14 days, we've only received registration for 1,500 people out of 200,000 for the whole region.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Port-au-Prince, the man in charge of registration for the country is Pierre Richard Duchemin of the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP. He says that one of the reasons the campaign has not started is because funds promised by the international community for the elections have not arrived.

Mr. PIERRE RICHARD DUCHEMIN (Provisional Electoral Council): If we come to conclusion and obtain these funds, there will still be a need for 10 million. But we'll have to live with that and because we cannot wait for anything, we have to move forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As of mid-March, Haiti had received less than a fifth of the 1.3 billion in pledged total aide. Duchemin warns that the lack of funds can have serious repercussions for the security of the elections. With political violence rife, especially around Port-au-Prince, concerns are high. The offices of the CEP have already been attacked several times.

Mr. DUCHEMIN: The kind of involvement that is absolutely necessary here today requires much more than that. Haiti is history of a failure, and it's not only Haitians' failure, it is the failure of international community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Haiti's political climate is extremely polarized. Much of the current controversy is swirling around former prime minister, under Aristide, Yvon Neptune. He's on a hunger strike and he's been in jail for 10 months without being charged in connection with political killings during the rebellion that ousted Aristide. He's demanding his unconditional release and says the allegations against him are politically motivated. The international community is putting pressure on the Haitians to let him go for fear that his detention will imperil the elections.

(Soundbite of men talking)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In an effort to bring the different political groups to the table, across town in the upscale Hotel Montana, one in a series of meetings organized by the United Nations for political parties is being held. No longer dressed in fatigues and carrying a gun but looking dapper in a pressed suit is 37-year-old Guy Philippe. His forces helped oust Aristide. He's now one of a group of presidential hopefuls.

Mr. GUY PHILIPPE (Presidential Hopeful): Because we think this is the only way to have power. It's the democratic way. And we think with those elections, we can save this country. We're going to have a legitimate government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But others do not necessarily agree. In many ways, Aristide still looms over Haitian politics and especially the fortunes of his party. In the last elections, Family Lavalas swept in with an overwhelming mandate. This time, the party is a house divided. One side is insisting on the physical return of their exiled leader before participating in the elections. James Desrosin is from that side of Family Lavalas. He says that Aristide was illegally whisked from the country and a number of conditions should be met before elections.

Mr. JAMES DESROSIN (Family Lavalas Member): (Through Translator) One of the first conditions is the physical return of Aristide to finish his mandate as is demanded by the constitution. And also, we want the freedom of our political prisoners. We can't speak of elections when there is repression.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The other side of Lavalas is urging it to move on with participation. Both sides agree, though, that the division has left the party weak. The first round of Haitian elections will start in October followed by a presidential poll on November 13th. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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