Ex-Haitian President Preval has early lead, spokesman says, as votes still being counted | VailDaily.com

Ex-Haitian President Preval has early lead, spokesman says, as votes still being counted

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A spokesman for former Haitian President Rene Preval said Wednesday that unconfirmed early results showed him with a wide lead in the country’s presidential race – even though many ballots were still being carried in from remote polling places by plane, truck and mule.The claim from Preval’s team could not be verified, and the first official results were not expected to be released until Thursday, said Jacques Bernard, director general of Haiti’s electoral council. Final results could come on Friday or Saturday, he said.Tuesday’s elections were the first since the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody revolt two years ago, and officials said collecting and tabulating the results would take several days.But some polling stations posted unconfirmed local results outside. These showed strong early support for Preval, a shy and soft-spoken 63-year-old agronomist widely supported by Haiti’s poor masses.At a large polling center near the huge slum of Cite Soleil, unconfirmed results taped to large columns inside showed Preval winning about 90 percent of the votes cast there.Across the capital in Petionville, home to many of Haiti’s wealthiest citizens as well the poor Haitians who serve them, Preval took slightly more than 70 percent of the vote at another polling station, according to posted results.Preval’s political adviser, Bob Manuel, said preliminary calculations show the former president having won 67 percent of the nationwide vote, with 16 percent of votes counted.Preval himself was in his rural hometown of Marmelade and wasn’t speaking to reporters. He emerged from his family home once, briefly dancing along to a band playing outside and waving to supporters.Bernard said only a small percentage of balloting results had reached the capital, slowing the vote count. “By Friday night or Saturday noon, we will have a clear idea of the results of the election,” he told reportersHaitians eagerly awaited the first returns Wednesday as scores of U.N. peacekeepers patrolled quiet streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Tuesday’s voting, guarded by a 9,000-strong U.N. force, was fraught with early delays but largely free of the violence that has plagued the capital since Aristide fled.The leading contender among the 33 presidential candidates was Preval, the only elected leader in Haitian history to finish his term. He is also a former ally of Aristide, who remains in exile in South Africa.Preval’s closest rivals include Charles Henri Baker, 50, a wealthy garment factory owner, and Leslie Manigat, 75, who was president for five months in 1988 until the army ousted him.More than 50 percent of Haiti’s 3.5 million registered voters were believed to have cast ballots, said David Wimhurst, a U.N. spokesman, adding that a precise figure wasn’t yet available. He also said that the United Nations has not received any reports of fraud or other major irregularities in the voting.”I think no one can deny the legitimacy of this process because people really participated,” the special U.N. envoy to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, told Associated Press Television News.However, he conceded that polls opened too late and “some people were not even able to vote.”Manigat’s wife, Senate candidate Myrlande Manigat, said initial reports from their own party’s representatives monitoring the vote count showed Preval with a big lead in her district, which includes much of metropolitan Port-au-Prince and outlying areas.”We are very worried that Preval has won on the first round,” Manigat told The Associated Press.If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held March 19.The vote count was going “very slowly” because of delays retrieving ballots from rural areas, Wimhurst said.”The hardest part is getting ballots back to the capital,” where the vote tabulation center is located, he said. “In some cases, it will take two days to get ballots from outlying areas.”U.N. officials were relying in part on 280 mules, loaded with bulging sacks of ballots and other material. A U.N. plane also arrived in the capitol, carrying balloting results from the countryside.The huge turnout all but overwhelmed electoral officials, who conceded they were ill-prepared for the crush of voters. Many stations opened late, lacking the necessary workers, security and ballots to handle so many voters who turned out by foot, car and brightly colored buses. Many Haitians cast ballots after spending hours in lines stretching up to a mile.”It could have been better,” said Jose Miguel Insulza, head of the Organization of American States, but he said the voters’ enthusiasm made the elections successful. “In many places, people would not have stood in line for so long waiting to vote.”The elections were deemed vital to avoiding a political and economic meltdown in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. In the aftermath of Aristide’s ouster, gangs went on a kidnapping spree and many factories closed because of security problems and a shortage of foreign investment.—Associated Press writers Joseph B. Frazier in Marmelade and Michael Norton in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado

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