Originally: Ballot Counting in Haiti is Going Slowly



PORT-AU-PRINCE – The counting of ballots from Tuesday’s national elections proceeded slowly Wednesday amid early signs that René Préval would finish first in the presidential race, as predicted by polls.

But it was not clear whether the former president would earn the outright majority he needs to avoid a run off run-off March 19 against the second-place finisher.

The first partial results are expected to be announced at 6 P.M., but it is unlikely they contain enough votes to settle a winner for President or any of the 129 seats in Parliament.

The tally sheets from each of about 800 polling centers spread out across Haiti’s mountainous and largely roadless terrain had to be transferred — by mule, by truck convoy, by U.N. helicopters — to Port-au-Prince to be counted.

Disorganization on Tuesday resulted in long lines and polls closing well after dark, with many voters casting their ballots by candlelight. While the results from many centers were set to be transported overnight, many were just getting picked up by late morning today.

Turnout for the first election since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country in 2004 was unexpectedly high in a country where many until recent weeks were dubious of the balloting. The balloting was postponed four times because of logistical problems.

The candidacy of Préval, a one-time protege of Aristide, energized much of the poor majority that once saw the populist former priest as their champion, and shook a political and business elite that helped drive Aristide from power.

Préval was the frontrunner in the polls, and a look by the Miami Herald at the results in four large polling centers in Port-au-Prince, as well as several in the port city of Gonaives, suggested Préval was far ahead of the pack of 32 candidates.

Of the 6,163 votes counted at several voting centers in Port-au-Prince — in the well-off suburb of Petionville, the poorer neighborhoods of Lalue and Bel Air, and one near downtown that served the strongly pro-Aristide slum of Cité Soleil — 4,718 went to Préval. That well above the 50 percent he needs for an outright victory.

One Haitian electoral official cautioned, however, that early results showed Préval had not garnered as much support in outlying provinces, where much of Haiti’s 8.1 million people live.

No reliable exit polls were conducted.

Presidential candidate and businessman Charles Henri Baker said his information suggested there would be a second round but it was not clear who would wind up in second — or or former president Leslie F. Manigat.

”We are patient,” said Baker.