Hope Sweeps Haiti on Eve of National Vote

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Haitians will take to the polls on Tuesday for the first elections since former President Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced to flee the country after a violent uprising nearly two years ago. Ed Gordon talks with reporter Amelia Shaw in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on the mood of the city on the eve of the vote.

GORDON: Tomorrow Haitians take to the polls. This will be the first election since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country after a violent uprising nearly two years ago. Voting has been postponed four times in the last two months due to violence and logistical issues. Joining us now to talk about what these elections mean to Haitians and the future of their country is Reporter Amelia Shaw in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

Welcome, Amelia. Let me ask you, will this election be seen by most as credible?

AMELIA SHAW reporting:

I think that this election definitely will be seen as credible. A lot of work has gone into setting up these elections; and as you said, they've been postponed four times. And so, there's been a little extra time to get, to iron out the logistical problems. But, you know, the U.N. is on the ground. They have about 9,000 peacekeepers here. And the U.N. has really taken a lead with the Haitian government in setting these elections up, providing security at polling stations, training election workers, and of course, transporting ballots, which has been an important issue in Haiti's past elections.

You know, so there is a high international presence. There's also going to be around 250 international observers; and not to mention the 36,000 Haitian observers who are going to be present on the ground. So, this is going to be a very closely watched election.

Also, we can say, the election preparations have been rather revolutionary for Haiti. This is a developing country that has really just quite a lot of infrastructure problems. And so, we're seeing a very advanced technology that is involved; hundreds of computers, which will be used to tabulate the results. You know, the one downside has been that the U.N. and the government have had to cut back on the number of polling stations that they wanted to have from 12,000, which was the proposal from the Haitians government, to just 804. This is a much more manageable number, but it means that a lot of people are going to have to walk kilometers, or miles, in order to vote.

GORDON: Let me ask you this in terms of the candidates. When Aristide came to power, so much attention outside looking in was being paid to Haiti, particularly by the United States. Aristide was a well-known commodity by many here. It seems as though now most folks in the United States don't know who's even running for the position. Tell us, if you can, is there a candidate that can bring all of the factions together and put Haiti on, at least the start of a right track?

SHAW: That is a big question. I can tell you who the frontrunners are and give you a little background. The favorite right now is Rene Preval. He was a former president and one of the few presidents to serve his entire term from 1995 to 2000. You know, he was not overthrown, essentially. But he has also been looked at by many Haitians as the seat warmer for Aristide. He served in between Aristide's two terms and a lot of people look at him as, you know, he was very closely aligned to Aristide; and he is not Lavalas, which is Aristide's party; but he's looked at to be very similar to Aristide.

Following Preval is Charles Baker, who was a former opposition leader during the Aristide regime and a businessman, as well as Leslie Manigat, who was also a former president, who served only four months and was overthrown by a military coup in 1988. It's expected that Preval will win the largest number of votes. But it is not known if he will take the 50-percent majority that is needed to win the presidency. So, many people here are expecting a runoff election next month; and they feel that this will be the real test for democracy.

GORDON: Freelance Reporter Amelia Shaw is covering the elections in Haiti. We spoke with her from the capital Port-au-Prince. We thank you very much.

SHAW: Thank you.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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