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Violence Punctuates Days Before Haitian Election
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Violence Punctuates Days Before Haitian Election

World

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Haiti, election workers have unveiled the process that they say will give that country a credible, fairly-elected government nearly two years after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Violence has surged in Haiti ahead of next Tuesday's vote, though the UN is promising the election will be safe.

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

COREY FLINTOFF reporting: General JOS´┐Ż ELITO CARVALHO SIQUEIRA (Commander, United Nations Stabilization Force): But we have reaction force and around five, 10 minutes, we'll be there, in any case.

FLINTOFF: The general's multi-national force will also be responsible for ferrying election materials to polling places and guaranteeing that they're not tampered with on the way to the capital. The Director of the Provisional Election Commission, Jacques Bernard, was named to his post after the Commission was widely accused of incompetence. Bernard sought to emphasize the credibility of the effort by leading reporters through the huge hangar-like center where the results would be tabulated.

Dozens of election workers hunched over computers under rows of whirring ceiling fans, as staff members assembled the cardboard panels that will become voting cubicles, and the white plastic boxes with windows so voters and officials can keep an eye on the ballots. As in many developing countries, the ballot has to be designed so it can be used by voters who can't read. Bernard displays the tabloid size newsprint ballot.

Mr. JACQUE BERNARD (Provisional Election Commission): Each political party is assigned a number and each political party has an emblem, a symbol that they use during campaign and people could easily recognize that. Plus, you have the picture of the candidate as well.

FLINTOFF: It's a system that the political parties reinforce in their jingles and songs. Here's a singing commercial for Charles Baker, known by his nickname, Charlito, a businessman who is campaigning for president.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

FLINTOFF: The announcer says, go vote for Charlito Baker, number 44 with the symbol of a truck. The refrain tells voters over and over exactly where Charlito's name can be found on the ballot sheet. It's at the bottom, on the right, number 44.

If you want to hear what the man or woman on the street thinks of the election, one place to go is Delma 31, where vendors crowd the sidewalk with secondhand goods.

Jacqueline Jones sells children's clothing from a mat spread on the street. The clothes are known as Kennedys because it was during the Kennedy administration that the U.S. began sending container loads of donated clothing to Haiti. Madame Jones says she plans to vote and she doesn't believe that Election Day will be violent.

Ms. JACQUELINE JONES (Vendor): (Through translator) God will not let that happen because it's misery that we're going through right now and we need elections so that things can work out for the country and business can be good again. I'm here since morning and I haven't sold anything.

FLINTOFF: Back outside the UN military headquarters, a small man named Capo Santelos (ph) stands by the road and entertains passersby with songs on a sort of ukulele made from a greasy stick, a half-gallon oilcan, and four wire strings. Capo, and another man who won't give his name, improvise an election song in support of former president and current candidate, Rene Preval.

(Soundbite of man singing)

Mr. CAPO SANTELOS: (Through translator) Election, election 2006, everyone is going to vote because it's the UN force who is preparing the election. This is why I am going to vote. This election will go well. Preval is already President. Since 10:00 in the morning, Preval will already be President. Everyone knows this election will have no monkey business because all the votes are for Preval.

FLINTOFF: The credibility of the election won't have to rely totally on the UN or Haiti's Electoral Commission. On Thursday, the first of a contingent of election observers from the European Union, and monitors from other nations, arrived to begin their work.

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

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