PORT-AU-PRINCE – Trucks, helicopters and mules carried in vote tally sheets from remote areas Saturday as the ballot count for Haiti's legislative election runoff got under way, officials said.
Officials were still calculating the turnout for Friday's vote to choose a new parliament, however, estimates ranged widely from 10 percent to 30 percent of Haiti's 3.5 million registered voters.
The runoff was considered the last step in the long-delayed process to put Haiti back on the path to democracy two years after a violent uprising toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first democratically elected leader.
Final results are expected within about a week.
"Overall it was a good, peaceful and democratic election," said Damian Onses-Cardona, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission sent to restore order after Aristide's ouster.
On Friday, the head of the European Union observer team, Johan Van Hecke, called the turnout "extremely weak," estimating it was closer to 15 percent. An EU spokeswoman said Saturday that Van Hecke made the comment about halfway through the vote and that the estimate could change.
About 70 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Feb. 7 presidential elections that restored former president Rene Preval to power, however, officials had predicted the turnout for the legislative race would be less.
"The assessment of the day is positive and we ask the Haitian people to trust us so that the process can work in the long term," the president of Haiti's electoral council, Max Mathurin, told reporters on Friday.
Preval's Lespwa party is likely to win most of the 127 legislative seats up for grabs, but the 63-year-old former president will have to form a coalition since no party has enough candidates to win a majority. Preval, a champion of Haiti's poor masses and a former Aristide ally, takes power May 14.
The party or coalition with the most seats in parliament chooses the prime minister, who as head of government appoints the Cabinet and most administrative posts.
Despite the lower turnout, election observers said the race was generally fair, well organized and mostly free of violence.
An official for a small political party was shot to death in a polling dispute in a northern town, and there were isolated reports of voter fraud and intimidation at some polling stations.
In the capital, voting went smoothly in most areas, although some people complained they showed up to cast ballots only to be told they weren't on the voter list.
A Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force was guarding the transport of vote tally sheets to the capital of Port-au-Prince, using helicopters, trucks and 200 mules needed to retrieve ballots from mountainous hamlets.
Only two candidates for deputy won outright in the Feb. 7 first round.