Image: Rene Preval posters
Walter Astrada  /  AFP - Getty Images
A Haitian sits in front of a wall covered with posters of presidential hopeful Rene Preval on Friday in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Preval has more than 60 percent of the vote in ballots counted so far.
updated 2/10/2006 3:25:32 PM ET 2006-02-10T20:25:32

Rene Preval held a commanding early lead in Haiti’s presidential elections Friday, with a majority of the first votes counted going to the former protege of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Preval, a former president seen as a champion of the poor, had 61.5 percent of 282,327 valid votes counted. Former President Leslie Manigat had 13.4 percent and businessman Charles Henri Baker 6.1 percent, according to figures released Thursday by election officials.

The electoral council did not say what percentage of the total votes cast in Tuesday’s election the figures represented. According to the United Nations, a majority of Haiti’s 3.5 million eligible voters cast ballots.

Baker said he was asking the electoral council to investigate reports of fraud.

“We’re starting to hear that people voted five times, 10 times, 20 times,” Baker told The Associated Press. “This is a worry to us because we don’t know if it happened at one center, 10 centers ... or all over the country.”

Elections considered free and fair
Baker said he didn’t know whether the alleged fraud affected the overall outcome, but he said he was “flabbergasted” that international observers have widely praised Tuesday’s elections as free and fair.

Officials at Haiti’s electoral office weren’t immediately available for comment.

Election authorities said it might be Saturday before enough ballots are counted to draw conclusions about the race.

Manigat, however, said early returns tallied by his party members showed Preval could win a majority of votes, avoiding the need for a runoff.

Preval faces monumental tasks if he wins the presidency of this impoverished nation.

Most Haitians can’t read or write, and subsist on about a dollar a day. A wave of kidnappings by heavily armed gangs has swept the capital. Amid the insecurity, assembly plants are closing, causing the losses of thousands of jobs. Donor nations are hesitant to contribute money because of a legacy of government corruption.

Preval’s own tenure as president from 1996-2001 was less than stellar. His efforts at agrarian reform failed because landless peasants who received land couldn’t live on the small amount they were given. He clashed with parliament over the legitimacy of the legislators who won contested elections. Human rights advocates accused him of interfering in the judicial system and of politicizing the police force.

Preval celebrated for his achievements
But poor Haitians remember that Preval tried to help them. Even the smaller efforts are remembered by those whose plight was ignored by a series of governments and dictatorships.

“He built the big marketplace downtown. He fixed it so that the vendors could get out of the mud,” said Yves Valea, a 70-year-old street sweeper.

When he stepped down after serving out his five-year term — the only Haitian president to complete his term in office — Preval went to live in his grandmother’s house in Marmelade, where he devoted himself to local development projects.

Preval stood for years in the shadow of Aristide, his dominating predecessor. Aristide, who referred to Preval as his “twin,” was ousted amid accusations he ordered gangsters to attack opponents and pocketed millions of dollars.

Preval made a point of saying in a recent interview that he has split with Aristide, who is in exile in South Africa.

“If I’m his ‘twin,’ we do not have the same mother,” Preval told the AP. Preval pointed out that nothing can legally prevent Aristide from returning to Haiti, but added that he may have to face a trial.

Preval would have a fresh start in relations with Washington, said Robert Fatton, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

“When (Preval) was president, the U.S. did not necessarily think he was a bad man, but they considered he had his hands tied up by Aristide,” Fatton said. “The U.S. now believes Preval is his own man.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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