Haitians Assess Voting Climate

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Haiti is set to have the first elections since the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide nearly two years ago. The polls have been postponed four times due to violence. For some, the daily threats are reasons to stay home. For others, the violence has made voters more determined. Corey Flintoff reports.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Haiti's prime minister reassured voters in a news conference last night that the country will hold its national election next week. He added that Tuesday's balloting would be safe and fair. Haitian voters need assurance, because the vote has been put off four times amid confusion and mounting violence.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Port-au-Prince.

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said some of the worst problems plaguing Haiti's elections have been resolved. He said most voters have received their identification cards, polling places have been established, and poll workers are being trained. He outlined a list of extra security measures for the day of the voting, including closing schools and banning all street demonstrations.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of people gathered for a demonstration in the center of Cite Soliel, the Port-au-Prince slum that's been the scene of almost daily gun battles between gangs and U.N. soldiers. The Rara band, playing instruments made from sheet metal and plastic pipe, was hired to promote front running presidential candidate Renee Praval. But organizer Jean-Joseph Joelle said it was also a protest.

Mr. JEAN-JOSEPH JOELLE (Haiti Election Organizer): (Through Translator) The aim of this demonstration is to ask the Electoral Commission, an international community, to give the people of Cite Soliel polling places inside their own neighborhood, and to also distribute voting cards here in Cite Soliel.

FLINTOFF: Joelle said people in the sprawling slum are afraid to go outside, afraid the police will arrest them on trumped up charges if they show up at any of the six polling places that have been set up outside the neighborhood. He charged that the Electoral Commission has taken the side of another candidate, and wants to discourage voting by people who might support Preval.

Stephan Lacroix is the spokesman for the Electoral Commission. Cite Soliel is controlled by heavily armed gangs, and he says the only way to ensure secure voting without intimidation is to put the polls on the edge of neighborhood.

Mr. STEPHAN LACROIX (Spokesman, Electoral Commission): (Through Translator) We have polling places all around Cite Soliel. Even if those polling places are not inside, they are really close by, and the people of Cite Soliel will be able to vote.

FLINTOFF: Outside the Election Commission, men jostle as they try to find their names among lists of those who've been hired for election work. Some complain that the hiring has been unfair, and they say it's badly organized. Wallace Metiere(ph) says he's come from the northern town of Gunieve(ph) to complain that his voter registration team hasn't been paid.

Mr. WALLACE METIERE (Haitian Election Poll Worker): (Through Translator) Regarding the elections, as long as they don't pay the people, there will always be problems. They owe the people in Gunieve five months back pay, and as a result, the workers have closed up the office there.

FLINTOFF: Stephan Lacroix, from the Election Commission, says the situation in Gunieve is an unusual one, and that steps are being taken to pay the workers. Danielle Magloire recently resigned from the Council of Sages, a group that was set up to advise Haiti's interim government. She says the government has exceeded its authority and she's not confident that the Election Commission, the CEP, will bring the vote off smoothly.

Ms. DANIELLE MAGLOIRE (Former Member, Council of Sages): The CEP, the government are saying that everything is okay. Okay? We resolved all the problems. But I know it's not true.

FLINTOFF: Election officials say that nearly all of Haiti's three and half million voters have been registered, and that come Tuesday, most of them will make their way to 800 polling places, some of them so remote that helicopters will be needed to collected their ballots. They say the election to choose a president and a legislature will have the legitimacy that Haiti needs if it's to emerge from the present chaos.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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