PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Under pressure from Washington and the United Nations, Haiti at long last will try to hold elections Sunday that are essential to restoring a legal government and vital foreign aid.
Disgusted with their politicians and despairing of a seemingly endless impoverishment, Haitians are eager to cast their ballots: More than half the population of 8 million is registered to vote.
But a flare-up of political violence, government foot-dragging and the bumbling preparations of Haiti's elections council could mean trouble for the legislative and local elections, Haiti's first vote since a disputed 1997 ballot. Voters' enthusiasm has been doused by fear, opposition candidates have stopped campaigning and the United States and United Nations -- which intervened to restore democracy in 1994 and stop an exodus of Haitian boat people -- worry their Haitian experiment is unraveling.
''By turning out to register in large numbers, Haitians have demonstrated their commitment to constitutionality and to the democratic process,'' U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement urging Haitians ''to forsake violence and to ensure that voters may exercise their constitutional right to vote without intimidation.''
Sunday's turnout will show whether Haitians are listening -- or will give in to fear.
''A lot of people have said, 'Don't go out Sunday, there's going to be trouble at the polls,''' said Lucien Pierre, a 37-year-old schoolteacher. ''So I'm not going to go out.''
Marnitte Jean, a mason, disagreed: ''Not to vote is to throw in the towel.''
The locus is former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former slum priest and president who, as Haiti's most popular politician, is the central figure of recent Haitian history.
Opposition parties say the elections are being rigged to favor his Lavalas Family party and set up a dictatorship under Aristide, who few doubt will win presidential elections planned for November.
Aristide lent his inspiration to a popular uprising that forced the 29-year Duvalier dictatorship from power in 1986. The military aborted Haiti's first free elections in 1987, killing voters at polling stations.
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