Haiti faces run-off ballot in presidential election

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The Independent US

Haiti could be facing a tense run-off ballot, after the release of new figures suggesting that the frontrunner and a former president, Réné Préval, may have failed to secure the outright majority needed to win the presidency at last Tuesday's election.

With some 60 per cent of the votes counted yesterday, Mr Préval's share had shrunk to 50.26 per cent. His closest challengers among the 33 candidates, another ex-president Leslie Manigat and Charles Baker, the candidate of Haiti's business class, had 11.4 and 8.3 per cent, respectively.

Earlier partial counts had shown Mr Préval cruising to victory with some 61 per cent of the vote. It is not clear when the count will be completed.

Thus far, the election process has been peaceful, and the first round of balloting saw a massive turnout of more than 1.75 million - a sign of how Haitians yearn for a fresh political start after Jean-Baptiste Aristide was ousted amid bloody turmoil as President in 2004. But a possible second round could bring fresh instability. Mr Baker has already claimed that Tuesday's vote was tainted.

Assuming Mr Préval does win, he will have to open immediate negotiations with opposition parties in Haiti's parliament, where his Lespwa party is weak. He must also get a grip on the gang violence that has cost yet more jobs in a country with massive unemployment.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with half of its people living on barely $1 a day, and real income per head no higher than in the 1950s.