Outsider Martelly sweeps Haiti's presidential election

Michel Martelly, a shaven-headed singer and political outsider, won Haiti’s presidential election in a landslide victory that tapped into deep popular desire for change in the poor, earthquake-battered Caribbean state.

Preliminary results announced by the Provisional Electoral Council on Monday gave the 50-year-old entertainer a clear win with nearly 68% of the vote, compared with just under 32% for his rival, former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

Celebrations erupted in the scruffy capital Port-au-Prince as cheering, jubilant Martelly supporters flooded the streets, singing, waving his portrait and setting off fireworks.

Martelly thanked voters in a brief statement on his Twitter account: “We’ll work for all Haitians. Together we can do it.”

Tense anticipation tinged with fears of violence had led up to the announcement of the results from the March 20 run-off, the first second-round presidential vote ever held in the politically volatile nation, one of the world’s poorest.

“Sweet Micky” Martelly, an iconoclastic entertainer known for his sometimes provocative stage acts, had campaigned on a forceful promise to change the status quo, pledging to break with decades of past corruption and misrule and bring a better life to Haitians struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake.

“Martelly’s victory implies a rejection of the political class that has both governed and been in the opposition,” said Robert Fatton Jr, a Haiti expert and professor in the University of Virginia’s Department of Politics.

“Martelly captured the mood of the voters by cleverly using his ‘bad boy’ image to enhance his status as the ultimate ‘outsider’ who symbolised change,” he told Reuters.

Martelly, a star of Haiti’s Konpa carnival music whose onstage antics include wearing wigs and diapers and dropping his trousers, has no previous government experience.

As president, Martelly will face the huge challenge of trying to rebuild a small Caribbean country prostrated in poverty long before an earthquake killed more than 300 000 people and bludgeoned its fragile economy last year. Hundreds of thousands of destitute earthquake victims are still living in squalid tent and tarpaulin camps.

The results are preliminary because they can be subjected to legal challenges which must be dealt with by the electoral council before it can declare them definitive later in April.

Milestone
To prevent trouble before and after the results were announced, blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers were out patrolling Port-au-Prince and other potential flashpoints.
Some stores boarded up windows in anticipation of trouble.

The United Nations and donor governments including the United States, which have pledged billions of dollars in reconstruction funds to Haiti, want the election to produce a stable, legitimate leadership to take charge of the recovery.

The elections are choosing a successor to outgoing President René Préval and also new members of the parliament.

After a chaotic first round of elections on November 28 marred by unrest and fraud allegations, the run-off last month passed off generally peacefully.

In a statement issued by the US Embassy, Washington called the announcement of the preliminary results “another important milestone as the people of Haiti move forward to rebuild their country.”

The statement did not mention Martelly but said “while there were cases of irregularities and fraud on March 20, these cases were isolated and reduced, especially when compared to the first round of voting.

“The United States calls upon all political actors to resolve any outstanding questions of the electoral results through the contestation process,” it said.

The international community has worked to keep the Haitian elections on track through its UN peacekeeping mission and electoral observers and experts from the OAS and Caricom.

Backed by diplomatic pressure from Washington, these experts persuaded Haitian authorities to revise the disputed first round results to put Martelly—originally placed third—in the March run-off with Manigat, at the expense of a government-backed candidate dropped due to alleged vote-rigging.

The University of Virginia’s Fatton said Haiti’s heavy dependence on foreign assistance to tackle the huge challenge of post-quake recovery could limit Martelly’s ability to radically transform Haiti’s economic and political system.

“He will have to deal with the reality that he will have little room to maneuver as Haiti’s sovereignty is at bay and ... for good or ill he will be thoroughly dependent on outside financial assistance,” Fatton said. - Reuters

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