Official results show that President-elect Rene Preval’s left-leaning Lespwa Party, while winning a significant share of the vote in runoff legislative elections April 21, fell short of the number it needs to govern Haiti by itself.

Lespwa (Haitian Creole for “Hope”) won 11 of 27 seats in the Senate and 20 of 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, according to the final tally announced last week.

Several parties declared that they would support Preval in the Senate, giving him a 16-vote majority there. However, Preval will have to reach out to rival parties in the lower chamber, where he needs at least 50 seats to be able to choose a prime minister and cabinet.

Preval, who has spoken out in defense of Haiti’s poor, is to be sworn in May 14.

The exiled leadership of the Lavalas Party, including ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had called for a boycott of the legislative elections because of the repression directed against the party by the U.S.-installed interim government. Most Lavalas leaders and activists are in hiding, exile or jail or have been killed. Aristide remains in exile in South Africa.

However, a grouping within Lavalas defied the leadership’s boycott call and ran several candidates, and elected three senators and five deputies.

Haiti’s election commission, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), reported that all votes were tallied except those from disputed areas where ballots were declared invalid due to violence or other problems. Seventeen legislative seats, including three in the Senate, have still not been filled and will be decided in another round of elections.

While UN General Secretary Kofi Annan hailed the April 21 balloting as a success, others said the election was marked by widespread voter disenfranchisement and irregularities. Turnout was about 30 percent, according to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, despite reports from other observers that turnout was much lower.

Independent journalist Kevin Pina told the World in a telephone interview from Haiti that “everything that could be done to discourage people from voting was done.”

He said thousands of registered voters were turned away from polling stations because their names were left off voter lists. Others were sent from polling station to polling station but were never allowed to vote.

Pina said that during the Feb. 7 presidential election, the CEP allowed people who were left off voter lists to cast ballots, saying they would validate their registration status later. “This did not happen” on April 21, he said.

In addition, Pina said there were too few polling places. During the 2000 elections, when Haiti was governed by Aristide, there were 12,000 polling stations, but this time there were only about 800. He said in rural areas, many poor peasant farmers had to walk 4-5 hours to the nearest polling place, wait an hour in line and then vote.

“Many would not do this and so far fewer voted in the countryside than major urban centers such as Port-au-Prince,” he said.

Pina also charged that the elections commission, which is dominated by anti-Lespwa and anti-Lavalas parties, consciously worked to suppress turnout, hoping their parties would fare better than they did in the February presidential election. In that round, most of these parties polled only in the single digits.

The New York-based Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network said its observers in Haiti believe that the low voter turnout was due to so many people being intentionally left off the voter lists.

The Haitian News Agency (AHP) and Reuters also reported irregularities, including the problem of people being left off voter lists. AHP said that in several regions of the country, notably in Cap-Haïtien, the Southeast and the Central Plateau, police arrested candidates and individuals for carrying loads of marked ballots and for trying to vote multiple times. Reuters said some polling stations lacked enough ballot-box seals to guard against tampering.

Some observers, according to AHP, question the official results because anti-Leswpa parties, which only polled 0.5 percent to 2 percent of the vote in the Feb. 7 presidential election, posted unusually large gains on April 21.

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