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Rene Preval Holds Lead in Haiti's Presidential Elections


Ballots are still being counted in Haiti's national elections held on Tuesday. The vote was the first democratic election since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country following a violent insurgency nearly two years ago. Initial vote counts show that front-runner candidate Rene Preval continues to lead in the race for president.

Haiti's provisional electoral council announced the first preliminary election results on Thursday night. During a press conference, council members read off the vote counts by district, starting with the capital.

"In the first place, Preval Rene, Lespwa, with 65.09 percent. In the second position, Manigat Leslie Francois with 13.8 percent," they said.

According to initial voting tallies, former president Rene Preval has taken a comfortable lead in the race, garnering more than 60 percent of the votes counted so far. While only 15 percent of the vote have been counted, some analysts say that Preval may have gotten the 50 percent of the vote he needs to win the presidency outright.

Many people see Mr. Preval as a protégé of former president Aristide. Preval served as prime minister to Aristide in 1991, and was later president from 1996 to 2001. Preval gets widespread support from Haiti's poor.

Clayonne Derogene is a single unemployed mother in Belair, a slum in downtown Port-au-Prince. She says she woke up at dawn on election day, and had to go to two voting centers in order to vote. She waited in line for hours, but said it was worth it.

"I couldn't miss the vote, I had to vote for Preval, my voice counts," she said. "I know he loves the country, like Aristide does. And, the way they took Aristide away from us, she says, Preval is like a retribution."

Many Haitians still feel bitterness over the exile of Aristide, who fled the country after an armed uprising in 2004. They hope that, with Preval as president, Aristide will be able to return from his exile in South Africa.

Gang leaders in the slums say that they will put down their weapons and stop fighting with U.N. troops if Preval becomes president. The slum areas are controlled by armed groups proclaiming allegiance to Aristide, and have been the seat of violence and kidnappings that afflict the capital city.

Third place candidate Charles Baker said he will ask the electoral council to investigate for voting irregularities and fraud. Haitian officials say they expect to have the final election results sometime over the weekend.