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Haitian Polls Close After Light Turnout


Haitians went to the polls on Friday in a second round of parliamentary elections that are crucial for President-elect Rene Preval to govern the country if he gets enough support in the law making body. Only two candidates won seats in February's first round of voting. Haitians are hoping the election will produce their first functioning legislature since 1997.

Despite the declaration of a national holiday, few people turned out to vote in elections that will decide 127 parliamentary seats. This second round of voting will re-install a democratically elected government to the troubled Caribbean nation.

Haitihas been ruled by an interim government led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue ever since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a violent uprising two years ago. In 2002, more than 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers were deployed, to stabilize the country against armed gangs and former militants.

But those who did turn out to vote, like Samia Rameau, came with hope for a better future. "It's my duty to vote. It's very important, I hope there is a change, Haiti needs a lot of change. Too much problem, too much stealing. Something has to change. I hope, I hope, believe me I hope."

Max Mathurin, President of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, said that though voter turnout was lower than in February's first round of elections, many Haitians did participate. But he said, the day did not pass without

incident.

Mathurin says that in rural towns in the Artibonite and Central Plateau, one person was killed and two were wounded by gunshots. In one instance, a candidate shot and wounded a national election observer. In a few voter booths, voters were threatened by armed gunmen. But he says it is unlikely that these incidents will affect the outcome of the vote.

The U.N says the legislative elections are crucial for the country's transition to democracy. The newly-elected parliament will choose a prime minister, who will serve under president-elect Rene Preval, who won the post by a majority vote in February's presidential election.

Mr. Preval's greatest challenges will be restoring political stability and revamping the nation's bankrupt economy. If no party has enough seats to win a majority in Parliament,a coalition government is expected. Final results

should be released next week.

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