Haiti's president-elect has remained in seclusion despite unofficial results that show he overwhelmingly won an election boycotted by most Haitians.

At least 70 percent of voters turned their backs on Haiti's fledgling democratic process, a blow to new leader Rene Preval and a U.S. administration that sent troops to Haiti under "Operation Uphold Democracy."Sunday's ballot followed a lackluster campaign overshadowed by departing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Many Haitians want the popular leader to remain in power, although the constitution bars him from seeking another term.

"Preval is our president! With Aristide for his adviser," declared about 500 people dancing and shaking maracas through downtown Port-au-Prince Sunday night. It was the only sign of celebration.

Their comments put Preval squarely where he has stood throughout the election campaign - in the shadow of Haiti's most popular leader.

He welcomed that position while it brought in the votes he needed, but he is unlikely to want to remain there after reports of a rift between the two former friends over Aristide's reluctance to surrender power.

Aristide has said he will return to being "the voice of the voiceless." In the past, that meant rousing people into the streets to oust an unpopular government.

At least three out of four voters chose Preval, said an official of the Organization of American States on condition of anonymity. But less than one-third of Haitians bothered to vote, he said.

The Clinton administration and its Republican opposition were divided Monday about the success of the election, the first presidential ballot since President Clinton sent U.S. troops in September 1994 to force out a military regime and restore Aristide to power.

"Yesterday was a crucial milestone in Haiti's progress toward an enduring democratic order," the White House delegation said in a statement read by Brian Atwood, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"Although voter turnout was apparently low, human rights were respected throughout the campaign," Atwood said. "There was no attempt by any segment of society to prevent people from voting or to subvert the exercise of free political choice."

But George A. Fauriol, co-leader of an observer mission from the International Republican Institute, said the weak voter turnout could mean a weak president. Nearly 100 percent of voters participated in the 1990 elections won by Aristide.

"The burden that is going to fall on the incoming government is enormous, because it clearly is going to be working from a very narrow electoral base and there is going to be uncertainty about how the people are going to react," Fauriol said.

A short, 16-day campaign period, disenchantment about the lack of an economic revival and uncertainty over whether the election would be held at all contributed to voter apathy, election observers said.

Observers from the Organization of American States have criticized Aristide for encouraging his supporters to demand that he be allowed to make up the three years he spent in exile after the 1991 coup.

Preval inherits Aristide's failure to revive the economy, ruined by decades of corrupt and dictatorial rule and brought to its knees by the 3-year international embargo during the coup. Aristide has accused the international community of not doing enough to help.