Supporters of the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide danced in the streets Monday in anticipation of a big election victory for the charismatic leftist priest they hail as Haiti's "prophet."
People turned out in large numbers in this poor Caribbean nation on Sunday to cast ballots for what could be the first freely elected government in Haiti's turbulent 186-year history.Shops were closed in the capital of Port-au-Prince Monday as people observed an official Election Day holiday and waited for official returns. Local radio and television stations were barred by law from broadcasting partial results. Some stations got around the embargo by relaying foreign shortwave radio broadcasts speculating that Aristide had won.
"We've won. They couldn't steal our election from us," said Pierre Merveille, a 42-year-old bus driver and Aristide supporter.
The international airport reopened Monday to arriving flights, which had been canceled on Sunday in case of disturbances.
The election was peaceful, though hampered by delays in the delivery of ballots and the opening of poll booths that kept hundreds of voters simmering in long lines under the sun, and leading some to charge fraud.
No official figures were expected until late Monday, but the consensus of some politicians and observers, based on partial returns and talks with election officials, was that Aristide would win a clear majority.
The new government will replace the caretaker administration of President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, a Supreme Court justice appointed in March.
Marc Bazin, 58-year-old former World Bank economist seen as the favorite by the U.S. Embassy and the business community, was considered Aristide's top rival among his 10 opponents.
If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held Jan. 20.
The president is to be inaugurated on Feb. 7, the fifth anniversary of the forced exile of "Baby Doc" Duvalier.
More than 800 international observers were on hand, seeking to assure violence-free balloting. A November 1987 election was thwarted after 34 voters were shot or hacked to death by thugs backed by the army.
The observers praised the behavior of the army and police, who kept order and patrolled streets at a discreet distance from polling stations.
"This time the army has been equal to its task," said Jean Robert Sabalat, president of the Electoral Council. "We have just lived together a great day in our history."