PILATE, HAITI -- At the edge of town, past the last muddy ford and where unruly stones replace the dirt of the road, the all-terrain vehicle carrying presidential candidate Gerard Gourgue bumped a bit wildly before stopping beneath a fluttering festoon of Gourgue posters.

There, some Gourgue supporters in the opening round of Haiti's first free presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for Sunday, thumped cascading cadences on drums while others blew on big bamboo flutes. Down the hilly street danced other townspeople, moving their partly raised arms, elbows and palms to one beat, their legs and hips to others.

This is a presidential campaign, Haitian-style. It is all so new in a country where presidential politics meant only the Duvalier family dictatorship for nearly 30 years that it is hard to determine what factors ultimately will influence voters to pick one or another of 22 remaining presidential candidates.

Unless violence by diehard Duvalierists against campaigners and polling officials interferes with the election, two candidates will meet in a presidential runoff, probably Dec. 20. The victor is scheduled to take office Feb. 7, two years to the day after the flight to France of former president Jean-Claude Duvalier.

In addition to the escalating anti-election violence, Haiti faces several problems in trying to conduct the first open election in its history. One is that no presidential candidate has galvanized the electorate, which seems to want more change than any of them promises.

Another is the massive disorganization facing the election council. After legislative candidates who had served the Duvaliers were barred last week from running, for example, some districts were left without enough candidates to fill the available seats. Special elections are expected later as a result.

And there is a real question about just what the victor will win.

The new constitution approved this summer decentralizes most power in a bicameral legislature and appointed prime minister. The president is empowered to make sweeping organizational changes during his first six months in office, but the prime minister he appoints, subject to legislative ratification, will be chief of government.

The new constitution also gives the civilian government almost no control over the powerful military and police. Dominant in the interim government since Duvalier's flight and still identified with repression by most Haitians, the Army's leaders have been trying to consolidate the institution's position before surrendering the reins of government.

The interim president and Army chief, Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, recently appointed himself to a three-year term as commander-in-chief, although the constitution says that person is to be named by the new president. Namphy also named or promoted 14 generals in the Army in which he was previously one of only two persons with that rank.

Some political analysts read it as symbolic, too, that a new officers' club was opened last week in what for decades was the seat of real power, the home of Jean-Claude Duvalier's predecessor and father, Francois, or "Papa Doc."

Although the post is considered largely ceremonial, the presidential race is getting far more attention than the more important legislative seats that also will be decided Sunday.

That may be because of the country's history of autocracy and the fact that details of the constitution are not widely known among the population, 77 percent of which is illiterate.

With the low level of excitement for the candidates and the lack of any electoral track record, it is difficult to read the signs on the campaign trail.

Gourgue, a human rights activist through the cycles of active and passive terror under the Duvaliers, is the closest thing to the candidate of the influential Roman Catholic Church. Of the leading candidates, he has done the most widespread campaigning.

Other candidates considered to have a chance to make the runoff are Louis Dejoie II, the son and namesake of the man Papa Doc defeated in a disputed 1957 election, supposedly with vote manipulation by the Army; economist Marc Bazin; political scientist Leslie Manigat, and Baptist minister Sylvio Claude.

Dejoie and Bazin have focused their campaigns on their native regions, while Manigat has spent little time outside Port-au-Prince. Claude is not campaigning at all, apparently because he is afraid that he might be assassinated, as were two other candidates.

None of these leading candidates gives much detail in his stump speeches on what he would do as president. All of their platforms promise land reform, economic renewal and justice, but not even those documents are specific about how those goals would be accomplished.

Claude, the man who is not campaigning, may be the leading candidate. He is relying on his reputation as a long-jailed and once-exiled Duvalier opponent who legend says once spat in Papa Doc's face.

"He's the man of the people," said a Port-au-Prince waiter, summing up the message projected by the Claude campaign.

Bazin's effort most nearly resembles a U.S.-style campaign, in which the former International Monetary Fund official projects himself as an honest man and able administrator who can get Haiti moving again.

Observers say his chances may be hurt by the perception of some ordinary voters that he is too close to the Americans and to an approach to economics that has not benefited them.

The essence of Dejoie's campaign and support seems to be the legacy of his father. "They try to give to the son what they could not give to the father," one observer said.

But Dejoie's campaign has great style. He dances jollily with crowds, who may be the same people greeting every candidate, and enters in thundering, ribald Creole into the grand African tradition of call and response with his audiences.

An outside chance of making the runoff is conventionally given to Manigat, who has spent most of his adult life in exile as a political science professor at a Venezuelan university.

Many voters seem much more eager just to have free elections at last than to vote for any particular candidate in this impoverished country where one-fifth of the children die by the age of 5.

As Gourgue spoke to a crowd of about 400 on the dirt square of this town of about 40,000 persons, 170 miles but six hours northwest of Port-au-Prince, Belbutia Clarul, 30, sat down the lane selling soft drinks out of a cooler filled with ice and sawdust. The father of two averages $2 a week profit, after expenses.

"I see the candidates who come, for deputy and Senate and president, and I'm not engaged," Clarul said. "I registered, and I'll vote, but there's no person who counts who talks about our needs."