Haiti's presidential race grows more crowded, diverse on final day to register

A crowded field of presidential candidates grew more diverse Thursday as a Haitian-born U.S. businessman, a former prime minister and failed coup leader joined those seeking to be the first elected president since the ouster of Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The Provisional Electoral Council office was at times chaotic as a parade of former officials from Haiti's tumultuous past, accompanied by bodyguards, registered as presidential candidates in the Nov. 20 election _ the first since a violent rebellion forced Aristide into exile in February 2004.

Those filing their papers on the last day to register included Dumarsais Simeus, the owner of a Texas-based food processing company who has said he wants to use his business savvy to help resurrect the economy of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

"In all that I have done, I have always been successful," Simeus said after registering his candidacy. "I'm a perpetual winner, and I will win these elections."

The 65-year-old businessman, who was born in a two-room shack and became the owner of a major food processing firm in the United States, has drawn attention because of his wealth. Critics, however, have questioned whether his candidacy will be certified by election officials because he has lived outside of Haiti for 44 years.

Simeus says he can run because he never gave up his Haitian citizenship.

Also registering on the final day were former President Rene Preval and former Prime Minister Marc Bazin, who came to the council office amid a throng of media, bodyguards and police.

In a surprise announcement, Bazin said his small Movement for the Installation of Democracy in Haiti had united with Aristide's Lavalas Family party to choose him as their presidential candidate.

"I believe Lavalas remains by far the strongest party in this country," Bazin said. "The goal of our union is to win."

A moderate Lavalas leader, however, disputed Bazin's claim of an endorsement, saying the party still supported the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic priest who has been barred by the council from registering his candidacy because he is in jail.

"Jean Juste remains the one and only candidate for Lavalas," said Louis Gerald Gilles, a former Lavalas senator.

More than 30 candidates have registered to run for president to replace the interim government established after Aristide's ouster. Candidates also registered for 129 legislative seats.

Those who have registered to run for president include former President Leslie Manigat, who was ousted by the army in 1988 after five months in power; Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince who was arrested and tortured several times under former dictatorships; and former Sen. Paul Denis, who headed a committee investigating corruption in Aristide's government.

The list also featured Guy Philippe, a former soldier who helped lead the rebellion that toppled Aristide; Hubert Deronceray, a minister in the Jean-Claude Duvalier dictatorship who has run for the presidency four times; and Himler Rebus, a former army colonel who led a failed coup in the 1990s.

The deadline has been postponed several times, amid the politically related violence that has claimed more than 1,000 lives since Aristide was forced into exile.

Some 2.2 million people, about half of those eligible, have registered to vote. A Jan. 3 runoff will follow if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, AP reported.