PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Despite its significance, tomorrow's Haitian presidential election has generated little enthusiasm, which observers attribute in part to the fact that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is not on the ballot.
The immensely popular Mr. Aristide, a one-time populist priest, is barred by Haiti's constitution from succeeding himself.
Some of Haiti's 3.7 million registered voters "resent having to replace Aristide," said a U.S. official. "If there is a low turnout, it's largely a protest to Aristide leaving."
Other reasons for the paltry voter interest include the lack of a charismatic figure among the 14 candidates, a relatively short campaign period and what Colin Granderson, head of an Organization of American States-United Nations human rights observer mission, calls "election fatigue."
It will be Haiti's fifth election in six months. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a runoff is scheduled for Jan. 21. The inauguration is scheduled Feb. 7.
"The campaign has been basically low-key, quiet and lackluster," said Mr. Granderson, a Trinidadian diplomat who heads a 340-member OAS electoral observer mission. "There is no excitement out there."
Candidates have largely confined their personal campaigning -- rallies, motorcades, baby-kissing and hand-shaking -- to the countryside.
Only minor incidents of intimidation and violence have been reported, and there is no anticipation of serious disruptions tomorrow.
The odds-on choice to win outright is Rene Preval, the candidate of Mr. Aristide's Lavalas movement and his prime minister before the 1991 military coup that sent him into exile.
Mr. Preval, 52, a soft-spoken, Belgian-trained agronomist, is the only candidate who has campaigned nationwide.
Mr. Preval has long been close to Mr. Aristide and served as a confidant in Washington during their exile. He is viewed as Mr. Aristide's personal choice, a perception likely to ensure his victory.
"There's no one who can stop Preval from winning," said Gerard Pierre-Charles, leader of Lavalas.
About the only question is whether he wins the 50 percent needed for a first-round victory.
Of the other 13 candidates, only Victor Benoit of Konakam, a grass-roots party, and Leon Jeune, a longtime government bureaucrat and Aristide cousin running as an independent, are given a chance of collecting more than a handful of votes.
Many Haitians and foreign officials hope the presidency is settled without a runoff so discussions can begin with the president-elect on critical questions that Mr. Aristide has put on hold, including economic reforms required to restore the flow of foreign aid and discussions over a continued international security presence after the U.N. peacekeeping mandate ends Feb. 29.
Both are considered necessary to attract the foreign investment needed to invigorate Haiti's moribund economy.
The international community will play a significant role in tomorrow's election, ranging from financial, technical, logistical and security assistance to the observer missions.
In addition to the OAS observers, vote monitors include a U.S. presidential mission, the Washington-based International Republican Institute and a French parliamentary team.