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27866: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-Elections (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By ANDREW SELSKY
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 17 (AP) -- Haiti's president-elect met privately on
Friday with political leaders to try and smooth the tensions that followed
his turbulent election victory.
But Haiti, and much of the world, waited to hear Rene Preval's plans to
form a new government and address violence and poverty in Haiti -- as well
as his stance on his former mentor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former slum
priest living in exile after being ousted as president by a violent
rebellion two years ago.
A day after Preval was declared the winner of the Feb. 7 elections, he
postponed a news conference until Wednesday and remained inside his
sister's gated house in the hills east of the capital, where he has been
meeting with politicians of various stripes. Among them was Chavannes
Jeune, who finished fourth in the election with about 5 percent of the
"Preval has always preached reconciliation," said Preval's campaign
manager, Volcy Assad. "It's logical that he's meeting political leaders."
Fritz Longchamp, one of Preval's campaign coordinators, said the
president-elect wants to forge a parliamentary coalition.
"He has begun a dialogue with some political leaders," Longchamp said,
More details emerged, meanwhile, on the negotiating of a deal to declare
Preval the winner earlier this week as protests paralyzed this Caribbean
nation and allegations swirled that the results were being rigged to deny
him a first-round victory.
Preval was a hair short of an outright majority with more than 90
percent of the vote tabulated. Haitian officials decided in a meeting
Wednesday that ran past midnight to divide the 85,000 blank ballots cast
among the candidates in proportion to the percentage they had already
received. That gave Preval just over 51 percent and outright victory.
If he had fallen short of a majority, he would have faced a second-round
election in March against the second-place finisher, Leslie Manigat.
Chilean Ambassador Marcel Young said his country and Brazil sought to
resolve the election dispute with Haitian authorities as the nation
teetered on the brink of upheaval. Tens of thousands of Preval supporters
had taken to the streets, claiming fraud. Some erected flaming barricades
across roads. Shops were closed. Thousands briefly occupied the luxury
hotel where election officials announced the latest returns.
"We expressed our worry and I think it produced healthy dialogue and
helped lead to a quick solution," Young said, adding that Haitian
authorities decided to divide the blank votes among the candidates.
"We were talking with them almost every day because it was an untenable
situation," he said. "There was no commerce and things couldn't continue
this way ... Our country didn't do anything but facilitate a dialogue."
Manigat, also a former president, has accused election officials of
breaking the rules to give Preval a first-round victory.
Charles Henri Baker, the third-place finisher, was also unhappy.
"There was no clear winner in the first round," Baker said. "What
happened was that Haiti's future president took hold of the results."
Bob Maguire, director of the international affairs program at Trinity
University in Washington, said Preval could be keeping silent because he
wants to choose his words carefully.
"This is a very delicate moment and he has to be really careful about
what he says, because every word is being parsed like it hasn't been
before," Maguire said by phone.
Maryse Narcisse, Aristide's spokeswoman, declined to say whether
Aristide and Preval were in contact, saying only that the ousted leader
would make a statement next week.
The U.S. government believes the return of Aristide could destabilize
the country and has hinted that he should remain in exile in South Africa.
Preval, who led Haiti from 1996 to 2001, became the first elected
president ever to finish his term when he left office five years ago.
After he is inaugurated on March 29, he will lead a nation where heavily
armed street gangs wage gunfights with U.N. peacekeepers, where the rich
and poor are divided by mistrust and hatred and where a rash of kidnappings
is driving out business owners.
The son of a former government official, Preval has vowed to crack down
on hardened criminals.
Associated Press writers Stevenson Jacobs, in Port-au-Prince, and Alfred
de Montesquiou in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.