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Haiti's President-Elect Faces Numerous Challenges


After days of turmoil and protests, the interim government of Haiti declared Rene Preval president on Thursday. Preval receives 51 percent of the votes,the simple majority he needed to win. As Amelia Shaw reports from Port-au-Prince although its political impasse resolved, the country is looking ahead to challenges that the president-elect faces as leader of the poorest country in the hemisphere.

The week opened with massive protests in Port-au-Prince, and ended with celebrations as frontrunner candidate Rene Preval was declared the winner of a highly contested presidential race.

Mr. Preval's victory was decided over a matter of vote counting. After hours of negotiation, and support from the international community, election officials created a plan to eliminate some 85,000 blank votes, which gave Mr. Preval a high enough percentage of votes to avoid the second round.

Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, was in Haiti to give support to the interim government. He says discounting blank votes is normal procedure in Latin American countries.

"Every country that has a second round has a system of leaving out the blank votes," he said.

Insulza says that holding the elections was important for helping get Haiti back on its feet after two years of interim government rule. The United States and the U.N. Security Council have also welcomed Mr. Preval's election, urging the new government to promote political dialogue and national reconciliation.

Now that Mr Preval is in office, analysts say he has many challenges ahead. The country has suffered serious security problems at the hands of armed gangs who control the slums and proclaim loyalty to former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Mr. Preval has vowed to fight the wave of kidnappings and crime by cracking down on the gangs.

Experts in Haiti's affairs say it may be difficult for Mr. Preval to get out from under the shadow of his predecessor. Many of the people who voted for Mr. Preval are the desperately poor masses in the slums who see him as a close ally to Aristide. Not only will they be expecting him to alleviate poverty and provide jobs, but they will also be expecting a speedy return home from exile for Aristide. But the U.S. government has hinted that Aristide should remain in South Africa.

Another challenge will be working in collaboration with members of the opposition. Mr. Preval's party doesn't have enough congressional candidates to win parliament, and it is likely that the prime minister will come from the opposition. Under the Haitian constitution, the prime minister holds more power than the president.

U.N. special envoy to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdez says promoting dialogue and national reconciliation are crucial to creating an effective government.

Gabriel said it is important to have a strong parliament that is capable of cooperating with the government, that is respected by the government, that has a democratic opposition that works with the government and is respected by the government.

Since his win, Mr. Preval has kept a low profile and has not addressed the public. But he did meet on Friday with political leaders from other parties, including fourth place candidate Chavannes Jeunes.

Meanwhile, second and third place candidates, Leslie Manigat and Charles Baker, have both condemned the deal that made Mr. Preval president.

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