PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, FEB. 9 -- Haiti's new president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has proposed a member of his kitchen cabinet as the country's prime minister, stirring concerns that he plans a highly personal style of government that disregards political parties and other national institutions.
Aristide's choice is Rene Preval, 48, the owner of a downtown Port-au-Prince bakery. Preval, a Belgian-trained agronomist, is a trusted confidant who, like Aristide, belongs to no political party, has no previous political or government experience and spent years living outside Haiti during the three decades of dictatorship by Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Preval was at Aristide's side in September 1988, when Duvalierist gunmen burst into Aristide's church as he said Mass, spraying bullets into the congregation and setting the building on fire.
Under Haiti's 1987 constitution, the prime minister has wide-ranging powers to run the day-to-day affairs of government. In the absence of detailed information about Aristide's government program, the appointment was being closely watched as a sign of the new president's intentions.
Since its independence in 1804, Haiti has had a political and cultural tradition of strongman leaders and personality cults, of which the Duvaliers were the latest.
Aristide, who was sworn in as Haiti's first freely elected president on Thursday, has pledged respect for constitutional government and democracy. Nonetheless, some are warning that he is already moving toward an autocracy different only in ideology from previous regimes.
"He probably thinks it will be easier to pass his own program with his own man as prime minister," said a senator who backed Aristide's election. But if Aristide intends to rule with a personal clique, the senator said, "we might as well go back to a dictatorship."
Some members of the National Assembly have pressed Aristide to select a prime minister from outside his immediate circle of personal advisers.
Since there is no party with an absolute majority in the National Assembly, the constitution allows Aristide to choose the prime minister in consultation with legislative leaders. Although there was considerable grumbling in the Senate about Preval, it appeared unlikely that the appointment would be blocked, given Aristide's landslide electoral victory and tremendous popularity.
Still, even some members of the political coalition that backed his election have said they are watching Aristide warily. Since the Dec. 16 elections, tension has built amongbetween the coalition, called the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD, by its French initials), and Lavalas, a political movement loyal to Aristide that considers itself partly responsible for his victory. When Aristide announced recently that Lavalas, a Creole word for flood or landslide, would become a formal organization rather than simply an electoral banner, many in the FNCD took it to mean that Aristide planned to create a super-party that would subsume the FNCD and all other rivals to the new president's personal authority.
There were further jitters when Aristide told a reporter from Haiti Observateur, which endorsed one of his rivals in the elections, that the newspaper would be under scrutiny.
"He's not giving signs that he wants all the institutions balanced," said Jean-Claude Roy, a political activist who has warned of the dangers of a cult of personality. "There's too much concentration on one man."