Préval looks Ready to Take Presidency

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Michel Nau_

Préval looks Ready to Take Presidency

Post by Michel Nau_ » Sat Feb 11, 2006 12:58 pm

Despite talk of a runoff and questions about ballot security, former president René Préval looked likely to regain Haiti's top post.
By JACQUELINE CHARLES AND JOE MOZINGO
jcharles@MiamiHerald.com

MARMELADE, Haiti - Former president René Préval, with massive support from Haiti's urban poor, held an insurmountable lead Friday in elections for a new president. But it remained unclear whether he could avoid a runoff.

The slow pace of the vote count added to the uncertainty over the balloting, which many Haitians hope will help end the political and economic chaos that trailed the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago.

With 1.1 million votes counted, Préval held 50.26 percent, Haiti's electoral council announced late Friday. Turnout has been estimated at 1.75 million, or half the country's registered voters.

''The
chances to go to a second round are 50-50,'' Jacques Bernard, director general of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, told The Miami Herald just before the announcement.
But one electoral advisor who has been monitoring the vote count closely said he expected Préval would wind up with 53 percent -- well above the simple majority he needs to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher.Bernard said he hoped the council would know today whether Préval will have to face off March 19 against one of the two candidates battling for second: former President Leslie Manigat or businessman Charles Henri Baker.

Runoffs also will be held for the 129 legislative seats for which no candidate wins a majority of votes.
The Baker campaign Friday sent a letter to the electoral council alleging vote fraud and asking it to nullify the votes ``where there were too many irregularities.''

''People voted two, three and four t
imes,'' said Hans Tippenhauer, a Baker campaign advisor. ``We do say we will accept the results, as long as they [council members] are doing their part,''

International election observers said that while they saw some problems, they were isolated. They commended the Haitian people for their large turnout, and called on electoral officials to correct problems, including late-opening polls and ballots thrown out after they were counted, for the second round.

''Our mission deplores some isolated incidents, in particular the destruction of ballots,'' said Jean-Pierre Kingsley, chairman of the 127-member International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections. ''That being said, we would like to emphasize the general absence of intimidation and violence at polling centers.'' Préval's campaign advisors acknowledged Friday that his lead might be shrinking as reports from the provinces trickle in. They had predicted an outright victor
y one day after the vote when the tallies included only the Port-au-Prince region.

The former president and one-time Aristide ally won overwhelming support in urban slums such as Cité Soleil, where Aristide was considered a hero for his defense of the vast majority of Haitians who live on less than $1 a day and whose plight makes their nation the poorest in the western hemisphere.

Préval, who has been keeping a low profile in his family's hometown of Marmelade, a mountain village 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince, told The Miami Herald on Friday that he was not surprised by the high percentage of votes he received in Cité Soleil. He received about 90 percent of the vote there.
''During the electoral campaign, I felt the enthusiasm. This is my third campaign, my second running for president, and this was the most enthusiastic,'' said Préval, who remained in high spirits at the bamboo, coffee and citrus cooperative he started in Marmelade years back.

Support for Préval
in Marmelade is near-total.

Since moving into his grandparents' home here in 2001, he has devoted himself to projects that help peasants grow more profitable crops, particularly coffee, while replanting deforested hillsides with bamboo and citrus trees.

''He does good work,'' said Efrain Jesmar, 28, an unemployed man lingering by the road a few miles from Marmelade. ``He loves the country. He's not into schemes all the time.''Préval has said that he's not really a politician and decided to run for president only after some 1,000 peasants showed up at the cooperative meeting area and urged him to run. They told him he would be a traitor if he didn't.

But those close say he would also like to redeem his image. His five years in office, from 1996 to 2001, brought some stability and development to Haiti, although many believed that Aristide really ran the country. At the end of his
term Préval became the first president in Haitian history to surrender power to an elected successor, Aristide.

These days in Marmelade, few people seem to miss Aristide, living in exile in South Africa since in 2004.

Said Jesmar: ``He's not here, so what can he do for me? Préval is giving hope.''

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