News from Haiti

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Inauguration of new Haiti leader to be delayed

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 2 (Reuters) - The inauguration of Haiti's new president, scheduled for March 29, will be postponed because the legislative assembly that administers the oath will not exist by then, officials said.

The chaotic Caribbean country's electoral council said on Thursday that a run-off election for senate and lower chamber seats would not take place as planned on March 19, delaying the installation of a Haiti's first elected government since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004.
"We are already behind schedule. It is clear that the run-off election can no longer take place on March 19," said the president of the nine-member council, Max Mathurin.

"So that situation will affect the date set for the inauguration of the new president, because there'll be no parliament."

Ex-president Rene Preval, a one-time protege of Aristide, won a general election on Feb. 7 after fears of violence and widespread suspicions of vote fraud persuaded the electoral authorities to change the way they counted blank ballots and give him a first-round victory.

Backed by the poor masses in the slums where Aristide also found most of his support, Preval is mistrusted by the same wealthy elite who helped send Aristide into exile.

The electoral council did not set a new date for the second round of the legislative ballot, in which the two leading candidates for each of 30 senate seats and 99 lower house seats will compete.

Council members blamed the delay partly on street protests by President-elect Preval's supporters in the week it took for authorities to announce the Feb. 7 election result.

Preval's political platform called "Lespwa," or Creole for Hope, leads in the legislative election. Based on first-round results, Lespwa seems likely to gain 16 senate seats and 34 seats in the lower chamber. The party that holds a majority in parliament will pick a prime minister and form a government.

Preval has begun negotiations with rival candidates to try and form a governing coalition in parliament.

Preval on Thursday visited the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor on the island on Hispaniola.

Bilateral relations have long been strained by mistrust and racism. Up to a million Haitian illegal immigrants work on Dominican farms or construction sites in conditions that human rights workers say are not far removed from slavery.

Preval is also expected to travel to Chile, Argentina and Brazil whose countries have deployed troops under the United Nations to help stabilize Haiti.