UN rep: Haiti’s future depends on smooth elections

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s democratic and economic development hinge on a pair of legislative and presidential elections planned for this year, the top U.N. representative to the Caribbean nation said Thursday.

In a year-opening speech, peacekeeping chief Hedi Annabi said Haiti’s security and economy improved in 2009 as the country avoided political deadlock despite the ouster of yet another prime minister.

But Annabi warned that relative progress depends on successfully holding two elections in a country where casting ballots and counting votes has often led to bloodshed and turmoil.

“Success would allow the country to enter a virtuous circle where stability and development are mutually reinforcing,” Annabi said of the elections. “Their failure will exacerbate distrust and suspicion and could jeopardize the progress achieved during the last four years.”

The first test comes Feb. 28, when voting is scheduled for seats in both legislative chambers.

Presidentially appointed officials have disqualified about 15 political groups from fielding candidates ahead of the vote. Opposition groups are threatening to disrupt the vote, saying the council is clearing the way for President Rene Preval’s newly formed Unity party to win seats in parliament, amend the constitution and increase executive power.

Preval used his Jan. 1 Independence Day speech to pledge that elections would be fair, but did not address the disqualifications.

Annabi called on all elements of Haitian society to contribute to the upcoming vote and presidential elections expected later in the year, and said the 9,000 U.N. soldiers and police under his supervision would provide security and help with logistics.

“The success of the elections depends not only on the (electoral council), which must of course honorably discharge the important responsibilities that were assigned. It also requires the full commitment of all political actors of civil society and all citizens,” Annabi said.

In response to a reporter’s question about local media reports that international partners have not provided $15 million needed for an estimated $25 million election, he simply said peacekeepers were confident the money would arrive.

Peacekeepers will also focus this year on border security, justice sector and prison reform, and training Haiti’s rapidly expanding national police force, he said.