Election Campaigning Grips Haiti There are 35 presidential candidates and 44 parties running in Haiti's first elections since former President Jean Bertrand Aristide's ouster last year.
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Election Campaigning Grips Haiti

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Election Campaigning Grips Haiti

Election Campaigning Grips Haiti

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

No fewer than 35 presidential candidates have their names on the ballot in Haiti, and if you want to tell the candidates apart, the best way may be the sound of their music. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro continues her reporting on the first vote since the removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

In a country where more than 50 percent of the people are illiterate, election jingles are one of the most powerful campaign tools.

(Soundbite of music)

Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Each party has a symbol and a ballot number and they figure prominently in the songs. You're listening to candidate Charles Henry Baker's jingle and it says in one of the refrains, `Charles Henry Baker decided that Haiti must change. Real Haitians, we should all walk with him.'

(Soundbite of music)

Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. CHARLES HENRY BAKER (Presidential Candidate, Haiti): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a hot afternoon in Cap-Haitien in the northern part of the country, and Baker is on a stage in the main square on the latest stop on the campaign trial. The square's not even half-full, but those that are there seem interested in what he has to say. His color, though, seems to be an issue. Baker is light-skinned, as most in the former ruling class were. Several in the crowd say they worry that he's part of an elite that has little interest in the plight of regular Haitians. Later at a hotel that is doubling as his campaign headquarters for the night, Baker sits down to talk. He's a 50-year-old US educated businessman who is part of Group 184, a loose affiliation of organizations and people that opposed ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He says he's running for president for one simple reason.

Mr. BAKER: This is my country. I've only got one country. And we've been going backwards for the past 200-and-some-odd years. And I think it's time for someone that loves this country and that has the guts to do what needs to be done to save this country to at least try to get to the highest post in the country, which is the presidency.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aristide, now living in exile in South Africa, still looms large in Haiti and candidates seem to be either running against him or as a stand-in for him. Baker became well-known for opposing Aristide, a democratically elected leader who was forced out in February 2004. Since then, an interim government backed by 7,600 United Nations peacekeeping forces has been in charge of the country. Baker says if he becomes president, he will be tough on Aristide allies whom he contends have blood on their hands.

Mr. BAKER: Justice--that's what we're asking for. Too many people got killed. I personally closed the eyes of maybe 30 to 40 young people in hospitals in Port-au-Prince. Man, don't they talk to me about reconciliation, talk to me about justice. And then after we have justice, I'm ready to work with anybody that wants to work and save Haiti.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His plan for Haiti revolves around imposing the rule of law, creating jobs mainly through agriculture and rooting out corruption. And Baker says once in power, he wants to give some of it back to the parliament so it can act as a proper check on the executive.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official, was appointed acting prime minister after Aristide was first overthrown in a coup in 1991. He's been an outspoken opponent of Aristide, but in Haiti's topsy-turvy political world, he's now the official candidate for Family Lavalas, Aristide's party. His symbol is a table, and part of his song says this. `There's only one rendezvous. It's a rendezvous by the table. We die for the table. We'll be imprisoned for the table. We go into exile for the table. We'll vote for the table.'

Mr. MARC BAZIN (Presidential Candidate, Haiti): (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of juice being poured)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At his home in the hills high above Port-au-Prince, Bazin pours himself juice. He says it was not political opportunism that led him to agree to represent Lavalas in this election but pragmatism.

Mr. BAZIN: I've come to the conclusion that this is very difficult to carry my type of agenda, social justice, inequalities, reduction of inequalities, reduction of poverty if you are against Lavalas because for better or worse Lavalas is a party that embodies desperation and the frustration of the Haitian people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aristide's party Lavalas has split three ways. The official candidate for the party is Bazin. Another Lavalas group, though, consider the elections illegitimate, and then there are some grassroots organizations who support former President Rene Preval, dubbed Aristide's twin. Bazin says his vision for Haiti can be summed up in three words.

Mr. BAZIN: Peace, unity, reconciliation. We go nowhere with the current state of divisions. I think I can be a consensus builder.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says job creation is also the most urgent priority, and he hopes to do it through attracting investment. Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere and at least half of the population is unemployed or underemployed.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Guy Philippe was one of the leaders of the rebellion that overthrew Aristide. His jingle reminds people of that. It starts like this. `We are mobilized. We are going to elections. We are going to vote for Guy Philippe. We'll never forget what he did.' As one of the youngest candidates at 37, Philippe is also one of the most controversial. He's been accused of having links to drug trafficking and armed groups. It's a charge he denies, and he says he's offering a new vision for the country.

Mr. GUY PHILIPPE (Presidential Candidate, Haiti): First of all, we want to change this political elite. For more than 30 years, they've shown that they have no vision. So I think it's time for young people to take Haiti.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He sees himself as a liberator and compares himself to George Washington and Fidel Castro--men, he says, who used arms to do what was best for their nations, but he wants to offer a deal to all sides if he wins.

Mr. PHILIPPE: The country needs it. Without a general amnesty, we will never have a stabilized country.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rene Preval was president of Haiti for a full five-year term between 1996 and 2001. He was also prime minister under Aristide in 1991. His campaign is all about reminding people that he's done this job before. His jingle goes like this. `Tell me who built more roads. Preval. Who built more schools? You, Rene.' Preval has so far refused to spend any amount of time with the press. He's also refused all requests to debate his opponents. Still, a Gallup Poll taken in November shows Preval in the lead. The other candidates dispute the results, though.

(Soundbite of rally)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In a recent rally in the southern town of Miera Quan(ph), his message to his supporters was this. He asks the crowd, `Do you need me to give you a program? Do I have to? Should I give a program? Should I say what I'm going to do?' The crowd shouts no after being prompted. It's a speech thin on talk of the future, but for his supporters, Preval is appealing exactly because he's viewed by them as a steady hand that can do the job. However, Preval's party called Hope(ph) is being accused by Mr. Baker and others of strong-arm tactics, including the shooting of one of Baker's workers. Preval has already said that Aristide can return from exile if he's elected. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

INSKEEP: We've put some of Haiti's campaign jingles on our Web site here, and you can find them by going to npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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