Michel Martelly Wins!!! "Tet Kale!"
Shaven-headed, energetic and extroverted, musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly took Haiti's mostly poor and uneducated electorate by storm with a whirlwind campaign and a promise of change.
A senior official at Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council told Reuters on Monday Martelly won Haiti's March 20 presidential run-off, according to preliminary official results. These still need to be confirmed as definitive later in April.
The 50-year-old iconoclastic entertainer, a star of Haiti's Konpa carnival music blending African and Latin rhythms, is a political newcomer who was regarded as a no-hoper when he first announced his presidential bid last year.
Martelly beat his older, more experienced rival, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, by tapping into the aspirations of Haitians yearning for change and improvement after a crippling 2010 earthquake and decades of poverty and misrule.
"We represent this new wind that is blowing to establish a new state of law ... we need a state that serves the population," Martelly repeated again and again during a campaign that proclaimed a clean break with Haiti's past.
While many observers and critics questioned his ability and qualifications to be president, given his public career as an irreverent showman, he used these very communication skills to woo the hearts and minds of voters, especially the young.
His "Tet Kale" campaign slogan -- a play on words in Creole that denotes both "shaven head" but also means "all the way" -- projected a forceful pledge to sweep away years of inept government and cut through Haiti's graft-ridden bureaucracy.
"Pa gen wout pa bwa" (No shortcuts), was another of his favorite slogans that struck a chord with voters.
His direct, populist message -- boosted by the public support of well-known Haitian hip-hop star Wyclef Jean -- in the end proved more successful than the more professorial style of Sorbonne-educated Manigat, who had more qualifications and experience but whose campaign seemed sometimes lackluster.
"For me, Mr. Martelly is a clear departure from the status quo ... a man with a vision for the future of Haiti, who listens to young voices," said Jean, whose own bid to run for the Haitian presidency was blocked on ineligibility grounds.
As president, Martelly will face the huge challenge of trying to rebuild a small Caribbean country that was prostrated in poverty well before the January 12 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 300,000 people, made more than 1.5 million homeless and bludgeoned the fragile economy.
Hundreds of thousands of destitute earthquake victims are still living in squalid tent and tarpaulin camps clamoring for jobs and housing, and the new president will have to work closely with international donors to ensure prompt delivery and effective use of billions of dollars of foreign aid.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PAST
Martelly's critics ask whether his past as an anti-establishment entertainer -- whose on-stage antics have included satirical commentaries and jokes, wearing wigs and diapers and dropping his trousers -- make him the right person to lead one of the world's most challenged countries.
A video has circulated on the Internet which shows Martelly, wearing earrings and a scarf on his head, admitting he smoked crack cocaine while in Miami in the 1980s. But he goes on to say he quit and urges people not to use the drug.
He has even admitted he knew little about music when he started out on a career that made him the first Haitian musician to achieve significant financial success. "I only know two musical notes: DO LA (dollar in Creole)," he has said.
But while his campaign handlers have dressed him in elegant suits for news conferences, he remains unrepentant about his showbiz past, arguing his personal wealth means he has no need to use the presidency for self-enrichment.
Questions have also been asked about his past friendships with military and political figures from Haiti's turbulent past, including politicians who served under former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who returned home in mid-January after 25 years of exile in France.
Some critics say he has a right-wing agenda and the makings of an autocrat. Rival Manigat denounced attacks on her rallies by Martelly supporters she called a "pink militia" -- the official color of the Repons Peyizan party endorsing him.
Martelly has called for an injection of modernizing private local and foreign investment to revitalize the quake-hit Haitian economy, especially in agriculture and tourism.
Declaring Haiti should "put its own house in order" and not rely for ever on U.N. peacekeepers, he has also proposed a restoration of the army, which was disbanded in the mid-1990s by then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was toppled by a 2004 rebellion but came back home in March from exile.