Sat, Feb 11, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Ex-Aristide ally leads Haiti poll

RETURN TO POWER?Former Haitian president Rene Preval looks set to be the next president of the troubled Caribbean country, according to the votes tallied so far

AP , PORT-AU-PRINCE

Rene Preval took a commanding early lead in Haiti's presidential elections, with a majority of the first votes counted going to the former protege of deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The electoral council said on Thursday that Preval, a former president, had 61.5 percent of 282,327 valid votes counted so far. Former President Leslie Manigat had 13.4 percent and businessman Charles Henri Baker 6.1 percent, according to figures released by election officials.

There was no initial reaction from the candidates, and the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince were quiet after the results were announced. Vote counting was to resume yesterday.

The electoral council would not say what percentage of the total votes cast in Tuesday's election the figures represented. According to the UN, a majority of Haiti's 3.5 million eligible voters cast ballots.

Election authorities said it might not be until today that enough ballots are counted to draw conclusions about the race.

Manigat, however, said early returns tallied by his party members showed Preval might win a majority of votes that would give him outright victory.

If the winning candidate lacks a majority of votes, he and the second-place finisher go against each other in a March runoff.

"There is a tiny chance that we will have a second round, but I fear Preval has made a clean sweep of the votes," Manigat said.

Preval, speaking on the porch of his family home in Marmelade, a rural northern town, said he was marking time and catching up on sleep until official results are out.

"My work is over," Preval said. "I'm waiting. It's boring."

Preval faces monumental tasks if he wins the presidency.

Most Haitians can't read or write, and subsist on about US$1 a day. A wave of kidnappings by heavily armed gangs has swept the capital. Amid the insecurity, assembly plants are closing, causing the losses of thousands of jobs. Donor nations are hesitant to contribute money because of a legacy of government corruption.

Preval's own tenure as president from 1996-2001 was less than stellar. His efforts at agrarian reform failed because landless peasants who received land couldn't live on the small amount they were given. Human rights advocates accused him of interfering in the judicial system and of politicizing the police.

But poor Haitians remember that Preval tried to help them. Even the smaller efforts are remembered by those whose plight was ignored by a series of governments and dictatorships.

In Cite Soleil, a slum ruled by gangs that have grown stronger since a rebellion ousted Aristide two years ago, jobless youths stood idle outside decrepit storefronts plastered with Preval campaign posters. Some of the young men shouted: "Long live Preval!"

Israel Privil, a 40-year-old shoe repairman standing nearby, proudly pointed to his ink-stained thumb, proof he had voted on Tuesday.

"I voted for Preval because I was without hope," he said.

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