Haitians Unsettled by Prospect of Preval Win
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Haiti, election officials continue to count ballots from last Tuesday's national elections. The vote was Haiti's first democratic election since a violent uprising sent former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile two years ago.
Preliminary results showed former President Rene Preval taking a majority lead over 32 other candidates on the ballot. But that margin has dwindled over the weekend to under 50 percent, raising the possibility of a run-off vote.
From Port-au-Prince, Amelia Shaw reports on what Haitians have to say about a possible Preval Presidency.
AMELIA SHAW reporting:
In a small tailor shop tucked away in a side street in the slum of Belaire, a group of men lean against sewing machines and talk about why they voted for Rene Preval. For university student Wilner Nelson(ph), it was Preval's record as President.
Mr. WILNER NELSON (Haiti Resident): (Through translator) He made parks, schools. There was security at that time. You could walk any time of the night. And we want the country to return to that. He is the hope of the country.
SHAW: But for Vincent Joseph, who sells mattresses and TV sets on the street in the capital, a vote for Preval was a vote for Aristide.
Mr. VINCENT JOSEPH (Haiti Resident): (Through translator) We had to give the world a democratic lesson. We voted en masse for Preval so he could give us Aristide back, because it's Aristide we want.
SHAW: Many Haitians still feel bitterness at Aristide's exile in 2004, and see 63-year-old agronomist and former President Rene Preval as Aristide's twin. With Preval in office, many Haitians expect the return of the former leader.
But Fritz Longchamps, one of the managers for Preval's campaign, says there's really one overriding reason for Preval's popularity.
Mr. FRITZ LONGCHAMPS (Preval Campaign Manager): What he did when he was President five years ago.
SHAW: Longchamps says people remember Preval as a man who never lied to them. He's someone they trust.
Mr. LONGCHAMPS: He was known as someone who speaks little, but does a lot. He does not make any promises that he cannot keep.
SHAW: Preval served as President between 1996 and 2001. He was sandwiched in between two Aristide terms, which earned him the title of seat-warmer for Aristide. His record in office is mixed. While he was praised as an honest and efficient administrator, human rights advocates say he interfered with the judicial system, politicized the police force, and presided over flawed parliamentary elections in 2000.
He was unsuccessful at agricultural reforms. But many Haitians remember the public works projects during his years. Pundits say his single greatest achievement is being the only Haitian president to ever finish a term without being overthrown. For Haitian economist Claude Beauboeuf, a Preval presidency is not good news.
Mr. CLAUDE BEAURBOEUF (Haitian Economist): This is going to be a total disaster, politically and economically. First, Aristide will return as soon as possible. And you feel it. And it's going to create a lot of problems.
SHAW: He says Aristide's return will exacerbate political tensions, leading to more instability. He says the second problem is Preval's economic record of anti-privatization of public enterprises like telecommunications. He calls Preval a populist leader and says this won't be good for the economy.
Mr. BEAURBOEUF: Third, you're going to have more public expenses, because populists spend money. They don't care about any macroeconomic consequences. They don't care about that. They don't care about inflation. They don't care about exchange rate problems. They don't care about anything. So they just spend money.
SHAW: But Mark Schneider, senior vice president with the International Crisis Group, says that this point in Haiti's political development, it may not really matter who the president is. The real challenge will be overcoming the political polarization that has plagued Haiti for decades.
Mr. MARK SCHNEIDER (Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group): The issue really is whether Haiti has reached a moment when there's a common sense that to change its history every side has to, in a sense, make compromise, and that if they want to stop seeing Haiti has a failed state, that's the only way that they're going to achieve progress.
SHAW: The future, says Schneider, rests in the ability of political, social and business leaders. To overcome personal interests and work together for change.
For NPR News, I'm Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.
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