STAYING AWAY FROM THE POLLS

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Although all the votes won't be totalled until December 27th, it appears that Rene Preval has been elected the new President of Haiti. The vote is far from a mandate. Election monitors from the Organization of American States estimate turnout at only 25 percent. The reason so many voters stayed home? The absence from the ballot of highly popular incumbent President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is constitutionally prohibited from seeking another term. Aristide had raised the hopes of his many supporters among Haiti's rural and urban poor earlier this month by hinting he would like to stay on for three more years to replace time lost after the army overthrew him in 1991. He now says he will not remain in office after Feb. 7, but he has made no move to discourage the passionate crowds who call on him to remain as President. In the absence of Aristide, those who did bother to vote seem to be throwing their support to Preval, Aristide's former Prime Minister and a candidate from the President's Lavalas coalition who so far has collected 78 percent of the ballots counted.