Preval critics responded to the initial protests by accusing Preval of using the same tactics as the former ally from whom he has tried to distance himself, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Two years ago, armed Aristide supporters violently shut down the capital when they felt his presidency was being threatened. "Business as usual," was how the new street protests were described by lawyer Carol Chalmers, a close associate of presidential hopeful Leslie Manigat, who is running a distant second to Preval at just under 12 percent. Another presidential candidate, Charles Henri Baker, echoed the same war cry, and vowed to do whatever was necessary to make sure that "that fool" Preval did not win in a second round. Thus the continuation of the opposing political agendas that have haunted this country since it became the first independent black nation in 1804: The impoverished majority will accept nothing less than Preval, regardless of the actual vote count; most of the wealthy elite will fight to retain the status quo and keep him out of power. The election that offered the potential for a fresh start appears instead to have revealed that Haiti's crippling social divisions still drive its politics.
Still, Monday's spontaneous protest was markedly different from the demonstrations of 2004, because of the absence of arms and of violence. It was the second time in a week that thousands of people were out manifesting their freedom of speech the first time was at the polls on February 7. And Monday ended quietly, with the crowds dispersing peacefully, waiting to hear from Preval, who had returned to the capital aboard a United Nations helicopter from his hometown of Marmelade, where he'd spent the last week. Preval spent several hours in the National Palace meeting with his advisers, some of whom urged him to hold out for an independent electoral investigation before he accepts going to a second round. How he responds will be an important indication of what kind of leader he will be. His presidential-like call for a legal response to electoral discrepencies while urging his supporters to remain peaceful is an important first step. But with the election result now the focus of a court battle and an angry protest movement, Haiti's prospects remain under a cloud of uncertainty.