Singer Elected Haiti’s President, Official Says
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – One of Haiti’s most popular entertainers, a provocative Carnival singer previously best-known for disrobing and swearing on stage, has been elected president, a senior Haitian election official said Monday, placing him at the helm of a nation still struggling to recover from last year’s earthquake, a cholera epidemic and chronic poverty.
The singer, Michel Martelly, 50, known as “Sweet Micky” or Tet Kale (bald head), defeated Mirlande Manigat, 70, a college professor and former first lady with establishment credentials whose informal campaign slogan – “Give me my mother” – sought to contrast with Mr. Martelly’s image as the rebellious son trying to shake things up.
The final results, allowing for a period of appeals, are expected April 16. If the results hold up, Mr. Martelly will take office in May, after President René Préval, who could not seek another term under the constitution, steps down.
The streets were calm immediately after the announcement Monday afternoon, and United Nations peacekeepers had increased their patrols in anticipation of the type of civil disorder that greeted the initial results in December, after a first round of voting on Nov. 28 that was marred by fraud and disarray at the polls.
Supporters of Mr. Martelly took to the streets after initial results showed Ms. Manigat and the governing party’s candidate as the top vote getters, igniting days of violence that culminated in an international investigation of the results. That report eventually lead to a change in the ballot for the second round of voting last month, with Ms. Manigat and Mr. Martelly as the candidates.
Before the runoff, international observers had fretted the arrival of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president who returned to the country two days before the voting after seven years of exile. They worried that his presence alone could disrupt the election or suppress turnout, and upon landing Mr. Aristide said he regretted the exclusion of his party, Fanmi Lavalas, which election authorities disqualified on a technicality. But Mr. Aristide has otherwise kept a low profile.
.A team of election observers from the Caribbean Community and Organization of American States said the runoff, while far from error or confusion free, had proceeded more smoothly than the initial round and the counting of ballots endured much more scrutiny for fraud and irregularities. That led to a four-day delay of the posting of preliminary results, which had been expected last Thursday.
With tens of thousands of people displaced by the quake still living in camps, only a fraction of the rubble cleared and more than 4,600 killed by cholera since the epidemic began in October, it appears Haitians believed only a political outsider like Mr. Martelly could change the country’s direction.
In the campaign, Mr. Martelly eschewed the skirts, underwear and other outlandish outfits of his musical career in favor of tailored suits and serious talk of reforming agriculture, streamlining the delivery of humanitarian aid and restoring law and order by bringing back the military, which was disbanded more than a decade ago after a history of human rights and political abuses.
Now, he faces the challenge of speeding the rebuilding of a country that, long before the quake, was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and one if its most politically unstable.
Haiti is heavily reliant on foreign humanitarian aid, dispersed among hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that operate in effect as a shadow government. It also relies on United Nations peacekeepers for security.
In addition, Mr. Martelly will have to share power with a prime minister picked by Parliament, where Mr. Préval’s party is strong.
“Whoever the new president is, this presents massive challenges and profoundly circumscribes how much room they will have to maneuver and pursue new projects,” said Laurent Dubois, a Duke University professor who helps direct a team of scholars studying the recovery.
Mr. Martelly, in particular, faces high hurdles, lacking relations and in some cases raising suspicions from powerbrokers here.
“The ‘outsider’ status of Martelly has been important part of his self-presentation as a candidate,” Mr. Dubois said. “The question is whether, and in what ways, this might shape how he governs once in power.”
Both the Haitian government and international donors have acknowledged the slow pace of rebuilding, attributed mainly to bureaucratic delays and a lack of follow through on pledges of money.
Only about a quarter of the $5.3 billion pledged at a donors’ conference more than a year ago has been delivered, with Western diplomats saying several countries had grown frustrated with a lack of decision making in the Préval government and were counting on the next administration.
In the United States, members of Congress and the Obama administration have exchanged blame over delays in approving more than $1 billion in aid, now scheduled to be delivered this year.
Mr. Martelly will also have to contend with opposition in Parliament. It appears Mr. Préval’s Unity party has picked up a majority there, pending final results.