PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, NOV. 12 -- Only 17 days before Haiti's first free balloting in 30 years, election officials are uncertain that they can bring off the vote on time because of extensive intimidation by alleged partisans of the former Duvalier regime and fierce bureaucratic infighting.
There is little doubt, according to diplomats and other observers, that old-line elements of the Army are responsible in part for the violence, and it remains unclear whether the military command is willing or able to bring them in check.
The government has been dominated by the Army since president Jean-Claude Duvalier fled to France 21 months ago. Military and police personnel have changed little since he left.
The provisional president and commander-in-chief, Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, promised a transition to civilian rule within two years, but his administration has appeared to do little to facilitate the elections since it bowed to popular demands last summer that the Army relinquish control of the electoral process to civilians.
Since August, the United States has provided $4.9 million to help pay election bills, but those charged with organizing the vote complained that the Finance Ministry has been slow to pass the money along. Western diplomats support the charge.
"They give me the money drop by drop," said Jean-Robert Sabalat, director of the elections bureau for Port-au-Prince and its province, the nation's most populous.
Not far from where Sabalat sat were the ballots and ballot boxes for the entire country, but he said he does not know how he will get them distributed in time. "For the whole Western Department, we have only one jeep and one motorcycle," he said.
The ballots for the 56,000 residents of the commune of Cornillon, 30 miles from any road, for example, will have to travel three days by mule each way, he said.
"I badly need a helicopter," Sabalat said. "The time is getting shorter and shorter. I really don't know how to do it, but I have to do it because we have to make it."
Sabalat also is scrambling to come up with many new polling places for Port-au-Prince. Many merchants reneged on promised use of their businesses after a wave of violence last week. "We're trying to get the public schools," he said.
One of three businesses printing the ballots and the seat of the elections commission itself were burned last week after the commission disqualified 12 presidential candidates who had served under dictator Francois Duvalier or his son Jean-Claude. Sabalat's office was raked with gunfire in the night, as were the home of one and the headquarters of another of the 23 remaining presidential candidates.
A few weeks ago, a leading presidential candidate, Yves Volel, was assassinated on the steps of police headquarters. Witnesses said he was killed by persons who came from and returned to that building.
"A far larger number of people have been killed in the last 10 months than died in the last 10 months of the Duvalier period," Michael Hooper, executive director of the U.S.-based National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, said here. "That's hardly surprising in that one has a class that is fighting for its life."
The number of persons killed in political violence since Duvalier's departure is credibly estimated to be at least 200.
So far, only about 1.5 million of an estimated 3 million eligible adults have registered to vote. It appears that many eligible voters have been intimidated by a months-old pattern of gunfire in the night in poor neighborhoods here and the even poorer countryside. The elections commission is weighing whether to postpone the presidential vote because registrars have failed to visit some isolated areas.
The presidential candidates nonetheless continue their campaigns for the Nov. 29 vote. The top two vote-getters then face a Dec. 20 run-off, although there is talk of changing it to Dec. 13.
The elections commission postponed local polls until Dec. 20 because of registration difficulties and the unstable situation.
Haiti has careened from crisis to crisis since Jean-Claude Duvalier boarded a U.S. Air Force transport plane for the journey to France early on Feb. 7, 1986. He left after an increasing number of street demonstrations made clear that only massive, bloody repression held any hope for his continued rule.
In this, the poorest country in the hemisphere, with per capita income of about $300 per year, there was widespread public expectation that the old political and economic systems would be uprooted. A 1985 World Bank report said .5 percent of the population got 46 percent of the national income at that time.
But Namphy's government seems to see its mandate as only to bring about the elections, and some political forces seem to see possibilities for derailing even that symbol of change.
One popular view of Namphy's tenure is that it offers "Duvalierism without Duvalier," as a critic put it, even though none of the present civilian ministers was associated with that regime.
"The difference is that they used to blame the violence on the macoutes " -- the Duvaliers' secret police -- said Robert DuVal, a human rights activist. "Now people are discovering who they really are."