News from Haiti

Friday, February 10, 2006

Preval lead narrows in Haitian election - Sydney Morning Herald

February 11, 2006 - 3:09PM Former President Rene Preval could be headed for a runoff in Haiti's first election since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted two years ago, according to the latest election results issued on Friday.

With about half the votes counted, Preval held 50.3 percent, just barely above the majority he would need to avoid a second round of voting on March 19. On Thursday, Preval held 61 percent, when only 15 percent had been counted, and appeared on his way to an outright victory.

Another former president, Leslie Manigat, was in second place with 11.4 percent and industrialist Charles Baker held third with 8.3 percent, according to the results published by the Provisional Electoral Council.

Preval, a protege of Aristide and the favoured candidate of Haiti's poor masses, was heavily favoured to win Tuesday's election, in which Baker, the candidate of the Caribbean nation's wealthy elite, has asked for an investigation into possible fraud.

Baker said on Friday he had asked election officials to investigate whether people were allowed to vote more than once because voter lists were not followed. "We had a lot of (polling station) volunteers who said they saw people voting five times, seven times, eight times," he said.

International observers have said they saw some irregularities at polling stations but have not suggested the results were tainted by fraud. A significant percentage of ballots cast have been nullified.

A victory for Preval could prove unsettling to the United States, which worked to push Aristide from power two years ago. On Friday, Washington urged Preval, who maintained a low profile in his mountain hometown of Marmelade in the north, to oppose Aristide's return from exile in South Africa.

Preval inherited Aristide's strong support in the slums of Port-au-Prince and his possible victory concerned the wealthy elite who helped push Aristide from office.

Elections officials said the results released on Friday included tallies from all of Haiti's ten departments (provinces), whereas Thursday's results included only five.

"Preval has quite a bit of popularity in the West and it is the first department that we processed, and therefore he was ahead of everybody," said Jacques Bernard, director-general of the elections council. "As we include other departments his percentage is going down."

And observers noted that large numbers of ballots were being nullified. Nationwide, 7.7 percent of the 1.1 million votes processed so far had been nullified.

But in Nippes department, for example, 14.1 percent were deemed invalid and in Centre, 12.9 percent were nullified.

Preval, who led the poorest nation in the Americas from 1996 to 2001, has not claimed victory. But he said earlier on Friday he was not surprised by the results known so far.

"During the campaign I felt the enthusiasm which would translate into a favourable vote for me," he told the Miami Herald and Reuters television in an interview.

Preval, 63, was president between the two terms of Aristide, a firebrand former Roman Catholic priest accused of despotism and corruption before he was driven out.

Although he has put some distance between himself and his mentor, Preval has said there is nothing to stop Aristide from returning to Haiti from his South African exile.