The ballot counting continues in Haiti, days after the country's national elections. Haitians went to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new government in the first democratic elections since former President Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country two years ago after a violent uprising.
Haitian election officials announced the latest vote count for the country's national elections on Friday night. The results showed that, frontrunner Rene Preval has lost almost 11 percentage points in the lead he had in the presidential contest.
With 15 percent of the vote counted one day after the elections, Preval looked certain to win the presidency outright with more than 60 percent of the electorate. But after half the ballots had been counted, Mr. Preval dropped to a little more than 50 percent, with former president Leslie Manigat in second place with 11 percent of the vote.
Preval was president of Haiti from 1996 to 2001. An agronomist by training, Preval is considered a close ally of exiled president Aristide, and commands widespread support among Haiti's poor. Gang leaders in a slum in the capital have said, if Preval becomes president, they will hand in their weapons and stop fighting.
Residents in many of the slum areas have announced protests for today. They say that the vote count is taking too long. Some people accuse officials of tampering with the results.
Third place candidate Charles Baker says he is also asking the electoral council to investigate for election fraud. Baker got only eight percent of the vote. He says he heard reports of some Haitians voting multiple times.
Raul Joseph is an unemployed father of four in the slum of Belair in the capital. He says he voted for Preval because he wants Aristide to return to Haiti.
"Every time we vote, someone screws it up for us," said Raul Joseph. "We voted en masse for Preval so he could give us Aristide back, because it's Aristide we want."
But not everyone is looking forward to a Preval victory. Claude Beauboeuf is a Haitian economist and consultant to the World Bank in Haiti. He says the country's next president is facing major obstacles in the five years ahead. He says that a presidency under Preval could be difficult, first because it may mean that Aristide will return, exacerbating Haiti's deep political divisions. He says secondly, Mr. Preval's record as a populist leader could mean a government that is oppossed to privatization, which could hurt the economy.
"Third, you are going to have more public expenses, because populists spend money, they don't care about any macro-economic consequences, they don't care about inflation and they don't care about exchange rate problems, they don't care about anything. They just spend money," said Claude Beauboeuf.
U.N. officials say they project that more than 1.5 miilion Haitians voted on Tuesday. International observers have said there were some voting irregularities, including a lack of preparation kept many polls from opening on time. But they have not suggested the results were tainted by fraud.
If no candidate gets a simple majority of 50 percent of the electorate, runoff elections will be held next month.