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Haitians head out to vote in Round 2

Election continues despite disputed results in Round 1

SHARE Haitians head out to vote in Round 2

FONDS VERRETTES, Haiti — There's no electricity, no running water, no telephone. The road winding down the mountain into town has a dangerous crumbling edge and is rutted with potholes as deep as a car wheel. The main street is a dry river bed, where the only building is the hollow shell of a church.

Yet people in this provincial town have not entirely lost hope, and like many across this nation of 8 million they appear ready to turn out for the decisive second round of Haiti's bitterly divisive legislative elections.

The vote is being held Sunday despite accusations by opposition parties and international observers that results announced from the May 21 first round were manipulated to favor the Lavalas Party of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The United Nations, the United States, Canada and France have condemned the first-round voting, and international observers have refused to monitor the second round in protest. On Friday, the U.S. State Department issued a last-minute appeal for Haiti to correct the balloting process, saying the count controversy "certainly calls into question the credibility of the entire Haitian election process."

In Fonds Verrettes, however, there is fervent hope that when the dust settles, there will finally be a stable and functioning government in Haiti.

That's a priority in the village, where villagers are looking for authorities to tackle the disaster left by 1998's hurricane Georges, which threw up a wall of water, mud and debris that demolished stone and cement buildings and drowned 100 people.

"Ours is an emergency case. A new government should make reconstruction a priority," said teacher Ilogene Merisca. "We voted with that hope May 21, and that's why we'll vote again."

Lavalas candidates are favored to win most of Sunday's races — including the one in Fonds Verrettes, whose roughly 30,000 people live in one-story cinder block houses on the slopes bordering the dry river bed.

"Aristide's word is a word of hope, and the people identify with him as with no one else," said physician Barthelemy Guibert.

But the vote may only lead to more divisions in a country that has not known stable democracy in two centuries of independence.

Violence erupted this week over the disputed results, leaving two Lavalas members dead, 12 people wounded and nine houses razed.

"The electoral process is a phony process and may pave the way to a civil war," Evans Paul, an opposition leader and former Port-au-Prince mayor, warned Friday.

Haiti's election council chief fled last month to the United States, saying he feared for his life because he refused to sign off on falsified results, and two other members of the nine-member council resigned in protest.

Candidates had to win a majority of 50 percent plus one vote to claim victory in the first round. But officials counted the votes of only the top four contenders in each race, resulting in percentages that observers say gave false first-round victories to numerous Lavalas candidates.

Officially, Aristide candidates won 16 of 19 seats up for election in the 27-seat Senate.

In the 83-member Chamber of Deputies, Aristide's party won 26 seats in the first round. On Sunday, 46 others will be decided. In 11 other seats in the Grand'-Anse district, either counting has not been completed or they will be decided in a later runoff.

Sunday's voting will be monitored only by two local human rights groups and a pro-government peasant union after international observers bowed out.

The difficulties cap a tortuous decade-long experiment with democracy in the hemisphere's poorest country.

Aristide was elected in 1990 but overthrown in a 1991 army-backed coup. U.S. troops restored him to power in 1994, but Haitian law barred him from seeking a consecutive term in 1995 elections. Haiti hasn't had a Parliament since January 1999, when an 18-month struggle over legislative elections marked by irregularities led Aristide's successor and protege, President Rene Preval, to dismiss lawmakers. He has ruled by decree ever since.

Preval this week warned that Haitians might give up on democracy if the results were not upheld by the world community. "I'm afraid the Haitian people will turn their back on this exercise we call voting and decide to use all those options that are not democracy," he said.

International approval is imperative if Haiti is to get some $500 million in frozen foreign aid and attract desperately needed foreign investment.

On Friday, elections officials announced Aristide's party had won in most mayoral elections and rural and city councils in the May 21 voting. The results show the party advancing toward almost total control of Haiti's local and legislative posts.

Few seem to doubt Aristide will also regain the presidency in a vote expected by year's end. But some fear he has too much power already.

"The country doesn't need a one-party state, but that is what we're heading for," said Frankel Nelson, the outgoing mayor.