Preval's Final Push
Tomorrow, Haitians will vote to establish a new presidency and parliament. The new president will be in office from 2006 to 2011. The hope on the street is that this president will be able to serve his full term, something not always guaranteed in Haiti.
On the streets of Port-au-Prince and through the countryside, posters representing more than 30 candidates are plastered on every wall space. Murals and giant portraits wrap street corners. The slogans of front-runner René Préval (a message of hope) and of parliamentary candidate Ronald Jonauel ("No Free Lunch") are made into songs. The campaign, low-key by Haitian standards, ended officially on Sunday with rallies and meetings across the country. Préval, who hadn't been seen in Port-au-Prince in a number of days, left for the countryside to vote.
Préval, a slight man with a graying beard and easy smile, met with people along the road near Gonaives before making his way to Ennery for a rally, where he was welcomed like a king. People lined the main street to meet him. Guarded by Argentinean United Nations troops and Haitian police, Préval took every chance to jump into the crowd, exchanging words and rubbing elbows.
Rallies were also held without the candidate. In the Bel Air section of Port-au-Prince, a Préval rally was canceled, reinstated and canceled again. His core supporters, having no interest in being told they couldn't march, gathered and headed toward the palace. Haitians, many waving flags, followed a truck laden with speakers and another displaying a giant, smiling Préval. Music led the crowd as the number of marchers grew into the thousands. Intermittent political slogans pierced the air above the sounds of song.
The energy level increased as the marchers approached downtown. At one point, another candidate's supporters emerged from a side street. The police, there to prevent any violence, limited the demonstrators to good-natured cat calling. A few blocks away, Haitians rallied for yet another candidate, a good sign for democracy.
As Préval's supporters marched back to Bel Air, the slogans and shouts began to change. This time the Préval supporters were talking about former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- how Préval and Aristide are one and the same. Préval has distanced himself from Aristide, but many supporters maintain hope that if Préval is elected, Aristide will return from exile.
In the countryside, after traveling for hours on pothole-filled roads, Préval arrived at Ennery. The quintessential politician, Préval didn't miss a chance to be photographed kissing babies and hugging children. At times he seemed reluctant to be there, each step toward the crowd appearing measured and precise. It was as if he realized perhaps he might be the only one to help, whether he wants to or not.
Occasionally, women would jump into his path to grab, hug or kiss any part of him they could grasp. Calmly and quietly, Préval made his way to the stage to address the crowd.
Award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv is on the ground in Port-au-Prince documenting the run-up to Haiti's presidential and legislative elections. >>About This Blog
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