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Polls in quake-hit Haiti set for November

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) June 30, 2010
Haiti announced Wednesday that elections will be held November 28, opening the way for rebuilding political institutions in the country devastated by a deadly earthquake in January.

The vote, originally scheduled for February 28 and March 3, will choose a successor to President Rene Preval, along with all 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies and one third of the members of the Senate.

The elections are being held as the country -- faced with political turmoil for decades -- tries to recover from the chaos resulting from the massive January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless.

In announcing the date for elections, Preval brushed aside criticism that he had been trying to hold onto power or was manipulating the electoral council, which had a number of staff killed in the earthquake and its headquarters destroyed.

"I did not choose the members of the electoral council, they were designated by the parties and organizations... I do not have the power to change it," he said.

"The danger for Haiti and its reconstruction is that when I leave office there would be no legitimate government to manage the country," the president said.

But opposition leaders have been holding frequent protests in Haiti calling for quick elections, and the nations and institutions involved in Haiti's recovery -- including the United Nations and United States -- have also pressed for a rapid transition.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Wednesday's announcement and urged the government and all parties "to ensure that the upcoming elections are transparent and credible and serve to reinforce Haiti's democratic institutions as the country strives to recover from the worst humanitarian crisis in its history."

The UN mission in Haiti has said it is possible to organize elections before the end of the year even if the country has not fully recovered from the earthquake's devastation.

In an April interview with AFP, Preval pledged to hold elections this year despite the massive difficulties of organizing a successful poll, because it is crucial to "not leave a political vacuum" at the end of his mandate.

Preval, who also served as president from 1996 to 2001, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third mandate.

The Haitian capital has seen protests in the past few weeks calling on Preval to resign before his term ends February 7, and for the installation of a provisional government.

Opposition leaders have accused Preval of controlling the electoral administration in an effort to hold onto power longer.

The Haitian constitution calls for the president's term to terminate by the last Sunday in November before the end of his five-year term. But in May, lawmakers approved an amendment that extended Preval's term for three months in case a new government cannot take office.

This would allow Preval to stay in office until a successor is installed or by May 14, 2011.

Preval had assured lawmakers at the time that he did not want to remain in office beyond the five-year term, rejecting the charges of the opposition.

The Caribbean nation -- the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere -- has had a long history of dictatorship followed by years of political turmoil and civil unrest.

In 2004, some 1,000 US Marines followed by thousands of UN peacekeepers brought order to Haiti after a bloody rebellion against president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's rule. A provisional government was then installed.

Quake survivors say poor governance, corruption and shoddy construction magnified a disaster that was less powerful than the 8.8-magnitude February 27 quake in Chile, but far more deadly and devastating.

Haiti's legislature building was severely damaged in the 7.0 magnitude quake, and the body is currently meeting in temporary quarters.

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