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Haitian Vote Count Continues; Preval Takes Early Lead


In Haiti, front-running candidate Rene Preval has taken an early lead as election workers continue to count ballots from the national elections on Tuesday. Millions of Haitians turned out for the balloting, which is the first since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile following a violent uprising two years ago.

Ballots keep trickling in to the capital, transported from the rural areas by helicopter, truck and mules.

Preliminary figures give the front-runner candidate Rene Preval an early lead in the race for president. A 63-year old agronomist and former president, Preval is one of the few Haitian leaders who served out his term without being overthrown. Seen as a close ally of former president Aristide, Preval gained widespread support among Haiti's poor.

If Preval gets fifty-percent of the vote, he will win the presidency in the first round. So far, only 25 percent of the votes have been counted. Final results are not expected until Friday at the earliest.

Around the capital, Port-au-Prince, election monitors praised the patience and resiliency of Haitian voters. Jean-Pierre Kingsly is Director General of the International Mission for the Evaluation of Elections.

Mr. Kingsly said that many polling stations opened hours late due to lack of materials, causing confusion and long lines for Haitian voters. He said these problems would have to be resolved for the next round of parliamentary elections, on March 19. He praised the high turnout of voters, and said the Haitian people are on the right path to democratic development.

Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group praised Tuesday's elections as a critical step in forming a legitimate government, but will need continued support from the international community. He said that while electing a president is important, the true test for democracy will be whether the country succeeds in building up its democratic institutions, and accepting with its opposition parties. "However visionary, however dedicated, forceful is the single leader. Haiti only works if the rest of the government works together. And if there is a common agreement on some basic agenda of change in this country to build the institutions," he said.

The future of the country, Mr. Schneider says, depends on the ability of different political, social and business sectors to work together, and to compromise.

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