'Sweet Micky' becomes new president of Haiti

The popular carnival musician enjoys a landslide victory but now must convince elite to help him repair a broken country
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The Independent US

A musician who has never held political office has won a landslide victory in Haiti's prolonged presidential election.

Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly took almost 68 per cent of the vote in a run-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat, according to the preliminary election results.

The announcement on Monday night sparked wild celebrations among Mr Martelly's supporters, many of whom come from the poorest areas of Haiti and are hoping political change will bring them jobs and security. Supporters cheered in the streets in their thousands with some firing celebratory shots into the air with automatic rifles.

Four months ago Mr Martelly looked to be out of the running after coming third, and thus being eliminated in the first-round poll to decide the run-off candidates. But with widespread suspicions of vote-fixing, his supporters took to the streets and brought the country to a virtual halt.

An investigation by pro-democracy group the Organisation of American States concluded he had been cheated of second place and, after further political wrangling, he was allowed to take his place in the presidential head-to-head with Mrs Manigat on 20 March.

Mr Martelly has had to reinvent himself during the campaign to convince voters he was a candidate worthy of being president of the troubled Caribbean nation, which is still struggling to recover from last year's earthquake that left 300,000 people dead.

As a musician he was a household name for playing compas, Haitian carnival music, but his on-stage antics of wearing nappies or dresses and mooning to his audience won him a "bad boy" reputation that opponents tried to capitalise on.

During the campaign he hired an international consultancy from Spain to help him transform from "Sweet Micky" to a credible presidential candidate, but much of his appeal is thought to have come from the fact he was a political outsider.

Just as important, he is charismatic and much of his support from the Haitian poor was owed to his willingness well before he was a candidate to engage with the people of the slums. Once declared as a candidate he showed the common touch by holding rallies in the settlement camps where hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake still live.

He has yet to speak publicly about the preliminary election result – the final declaration will be made on 16 April after protests and complaints have been assessed – but he tweeted: "We're going to work for all Haitians. Together we can."

It remains unclear how effective Mr Martelly will be. Among the challenges he faces is having to confront a Senate and Chamber of Deputies that are controlled by supporters of the outgoing president, René Preval. It was Mr Preval's preferred choice of presidential heir, Jude Celestin, who originally took second place in the December poll that left Mrs Manigat, a university law professor whose husband Leslie was ousted in a 1988 coup, in first place and Mr Martelly in third.

Mr Martelly will also want to convince the business elite and wealthy Haitians who were behind Mrs Manigat to help him lay the foundations for a stable economy and to create the jobs and industry that will allow the country to recover from the earthquake and end the abject poverty.

The results were announced by Haiti's election council, which said turnout was about 23 per cent. Serge Audate, an elections official, said possible fraud was indicated in about 15 per cent of votes, with some having to be discounted.

The US embassy in Haiti welcomed the preliminary result as "another important milestone as the people of Haiti move forward to rebuild their country".

The challenges facing Michel Martelly

Rebuilding Haiti

What's the problem?

Even if much of the world's attention has moved on, Haiti is still in ruins from last year's earthquake. Some 680,000 people are still living in camps and most of the rubble has yet to be cleared.

What's the solution?

An enormous logistical operation that will require rebuilding institutions and persuading foreign donors that the Haitian government can be trusted to administer the money.

Can Martelly do it?

As an outsider with little experience of government, he may be able to persuade donors that he can start afresh. But there may also be hesitation about putting faith in an unknown quantity.


What's the problem?

With at least 4,700 dead and hundreds of thousands more affected, the disease has added a huge weight to the country's attempts to recover.

What's the solution?

The answer is again logistical – getting people water purification tablets and maintaining clean water supplies. Otherwise, with the rain and hurricane season looming, there are fears of another epidemic.

Can Martelly do it?

He has been criticised for not producing a comprehensive plan to fight the spread of the disease. With another outbreak threatening he will need to act quickly to disprove that idea.


What's the problem?

Even before the earthquake, Haiti faced the worst poverty in the western hemisphere. High food prices could mean that the country's poorest people will face severe shortages until the June harvest.

What's the solution?

Government subsidy would help, as would a gradual increase in reserves. Fishermen will hope the government can help to rebuild confidence in their fish after the cholera outbreak hit sales.

Can Martelly do it?

He campaigned as a representative of the poor and offered free education and more jobs. But it remains to be seen whether he can find economic policies to make those promises viable.


What's the problem?

It's a complex picture, with two ousted presidents – Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier – returning to the country. Their influence could undermine government unity.

What's the solution?

Neither Aristide nor Duvalier interfered during the campaign, but to underpin his authority, Martelly must build on his popular victory with rapid social and economic progress.

Can Martelly do it?

He owes neither man, nor any of Haiti's entrenched elites, the kind of loyalty that more seasoned political figures might. But his inexperience will cost him in the public calculus if he finds himself opposed by such old hands.