HERETOFORE silent on the matter, Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he may seek a second term as president of Haiti as soon as the country's Constitution allows.
"If the time will come for me to hear the same voices asking me to run, I will be ready to serve once again," Mr. Aristide said last Wednesday in an interview with two reporters in Haiti's presidential palace.
Under Haiti's Constitution, Aristide is allowed to serve two nonconsecutive terms. His current term, which expires in February, was foreshortened by a forced three-year exile in the US following a military coup in 1991. A peaceful transfer of power in 1996 would be the first in Haiti's nearly 200 years of independence.
Despite pressure from many followers to extend his term to compensate for years in exile, Aristide confirmed that he plans to step down on schedule and devote time to writing and teaching, remaining "as a citizen living in my country ready to serve."
Three weeks before Haitian voters go to the polls to select national legislators and local officials, Aristide insists the election will be "free and fair," partly because security in Haiti has been enhanced by the presence of UN forces.
"I'm confident that it will work," Aristide says of the election.
The diminutive Haitian leader is known for his passionate public oratory, but is soft-spoken in private.
He says he has drawn inspiration from two countries: the US, because of "its deep tradition of moving from one election to another one" without violence or interruption; and South Africa, where President Nelson Mandela "spent so many years in prison, coming back as the head of state but not moving with retaliation or vengeance ... which is exactly what we are doing here."
In the twilight of his presidency, the popular former Roman Catholic priest says he would like to be remembered "as a president who worked for peace, creating the climate where reconciliation and tolerance have helped us rebuild our nation.
"I think this is a lot," he adds.