Haiti Declares Preval Winner of Election
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Nine days after going to the polls, Haitians woke up to the news today that they have a president. The interim government announced early this morning that it was declaring front-runner Rene Preval the winner. There have been four days of massive demonstrations, allegations of fraud and the mysterious appearance of thousands of ballots on a dump heap outside the capital. As Amelia Shaw reports from Port-au-Prince, many Haitians greeted today's news with celebrations.
AMELIA SHAW: In Port-au-Prince, Carnival seems to have started a few days early. Before dawn even broke jubilant Haitians were celebrating the news that they have a president. Thousands gathered in the broiling midmorning sun in front of the national palace, dancing to a song made famous by Rev, a wellknown supporter of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Jean Roam (ph) says the music is symbolic.
JEAN ROAM: (Through translator) This music is dedicated to Father Aristide, and with Preval as President, he has to come back to the country to set things right.
SHAW: Many people who voted for Preval are poor and see in him the image of Aristide. These were the first elections since Aristide fled in 2004 following a violent uprising. Aristide's opponents claim he provided guns to slum gangs. They also say he took bribes from drug traffickers who use Haiti as a way station to the U.S. Aristide denies the charges, but the Aristide link is likely to be a challenge for Preval, to assert his leadership without alienating his support base, particularly among the armed gangs.
Controlling these gangs will be crucial to restoring security. In front of the National Palace, Fenel Petriant (ph) carries a white dove and looks over the quivering masses of people. He holds up the bird and says it is time for peace to return to Haiti.
FENEL PETRIANT: (Through translator) We have been so thirsty for this. We go hungry, our kids can't go to school, we can't pay rent. I don't know what this leader will bring us, but at least today we are happy.
SHAW: The joyous public demonstrations today are far different than the chaos that gripped the capital earlier this week. Massive street demonstrations and public allegations of fraud were fueled by the discovery of thousands of burned ballots in a city dump. Preval threatened to contest the elections while the people barricaded the streets.
Of the 33 candidates, Preval was clearly the most popular, but he didn't have the simple majority needed to win. Faced with an impasse, the electoral council subtracted 85,000 blank ballots that were cast in the election from the total number of votes, giving Preval 51 percent. Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, arrived in Haiti yesterday to help mediate the crisis. He says that the decision to exclude the blank votes is common electoral procedure in most Latin American countries.
JOSE MIGUEL INSULZA: Every country that has a second round has a system of leaving out the blank votes.
SHAW: But not everyone applauds this decision. Kasner Farrell (ph) is a leading economist in Haiti. He calls the decision a political arrangement and says it will be good as a short term fix to a political impasse, but in the long run it's a blow to Democracy in Haiti.
KASNER FARRELL: Because of bad planning, because of management problem, we cannot organize an election and after the election not to have somebody contesting the way it was. So, that's the problem.
SHAW: He says not holding a second vote between two candidates may compromise the strength of Preval's mandate.
FARRELL: And Preval, you know, now with 51 percent is very different from 60 or 70 percent, because the opposition as a block might say, hey you got 50 percent of the people who don't vote for him.
SHAW: Washington welcomed Preval's victory with the Bush administration saying it looked forward to helping Haitians build a better future for themselves. For many Haitians, the fact that they have a president at all is reason to celebrate.
For NPR News, I'm Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.