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Posted February 17, 2006
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Stumbling Forward in Haiti

The internationally brokered deal that declared René Préval the official winner of last week's Haitian election provided the best available exit from a bad and worsening situation. It required reinterpreting the election rules after the votes had been counted, which tarnishes the democratic legitimacy this election was supposed to provide.

But the prospects for a democratically acceptable outcome faced a more imminent threat from escalating violence by the frustrated Préval supporters who believed, perhaps accurately, that they had been defrauded of a first-round victory. By any count, Mr. Préval won at least 48.7 percent of the votes and led his nearest rival by a margin of four to one. Dispensing with a runoff creates a narrow path forward, if Mr. Préval is wise enough to take it.

That will require reaching out to his opponents, as well as reining in his violence-prone supporters, many of them inherited from his mentor, the twice-elected, twice-deposed former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Mr. Aristide and Mr. Préval, who won an election in 1995, are the only two democratically elected leaders in Haiti's long history. Only Mr. Préval peacefully served a full five-year term.

Beyond this feat of survival, Mr. Préval did not have a successful first term. The police remained brutal and corrupt. No progress was made toward creating a competent judiciary. Legislative elections were badly flawed. Drug trafficking flourished. Pro-government gangs ruled the slums. Little economic growth trickled down to the impoverished majority.

At least some of the responsibility for that lies with Mr. Aristide, the real political power during the first Préval presidency. If Mr. Préval again lets Mr. Aristide run things, those problems could recur. If he tries to keep Mr. Aristide at a distance, popular support for him could shrink fast. Under any circumstances, Haiti will need international support for a long time.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Editorial/Letters, of Friday, February 17, 2006.

Related text: A vote for Haitian presidential candidate, Preval, is a vote for more abject poverty, drug trafficking, terrorism - overall, anti-United States

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