Troubles ahead for Haiti victor Martelly

2011-04-06 13:29

Port-au-Prince - Haiti's next president Michel Martelly promised a "new era" for Haiti on Tuesday, but his landslide election victory looked like the easy part as a host of difficulties lay ahead.

The 50-year-old former carnival entertainer and pop singer, known as "Sweet Micky" or Tet Kale (Bald Head), lit up the campaign, seizing the mantle of change and capturing the imagination of Haiti's frustrated urban youth.

"Haitian people, a new era has begun," Martelly told a victory press conference in the capital Port-au-Prince, urging the young to "raise their eyes to the rainbow of promised change".

But the political novice, who was disrobing on stage as a bawdy entertainer only a short time ago, has many a minefield to navigate if he is to match soaring rhetoric with the real change Haiti so desperately needs.

"I am proud to have been called to the service of my country. You have put your trust in me, the enfant terrible," he joked.

"You have trusted me to lead the country well, to leave the old demons and old quarrels of Haitian politics behind and to manage things differently. I am going to work with everyone: I am president of all Haitians."

Manigat outraged

Preliminary results of the March 20 run-off credited Martelly on Monday with 67.6% of the vote, more than double the showing for his opponent, former first lady and senator Mirlande Manigat.

Martelly will be confirmed as president-elect after the period of legal complaint expires and definitive results are announced on April 16, ahead of a swearing-in ceremony in mid-May.

Manigat, who dreamed of becoming Haiti's first democratically elected female leader, said she was "outraged" for the country she loved and denounced an "electoral hold-up" but did not immediately challenge the results.

The margin of Martelly's victory should mean a peaceful transition but observers warn that his hope-filled campaign, laden with big promises, has raised expectations.

The notoriously dysfunctional Caribbean nation was the poorest country in the Americas even before a January 2010 earthquake flattened Port-au-Prince and killed more than 225 000 people.

The pace of reconstruction has been glacial and a desperate populace, including hundreds of thousands of quake survivors crammed into squalid tent cities, is crying out for progress.

International donors pledged about $10bn to help Haiti rebuild but are wary of corruption and reluctant to honour their commitments until a trustworthy administration is in place.

Forming a new government

The United States called the election results an "important milestone", while the European Union urged Martelly to deliver "greater political stability and strengthened governance".

"These are essential conditions if the process of reconstruction and economic recovery is to be accelerated," chief EU diplomat Catherine Ashton stressed.

Martelly's immediate task will be to form a new government.

President Rene Preval's dominant Unity party surprised many in the legislative elections by failing to achieve a majority in parliament, but Martelly's Repons Peyizan party only took a handful of seats.

"The fact there is no majority might give Martelly the capacity to manipulate parliament so he can get things done," Haiti expert at the University of Virginia Robert Fatton said.

"The problem is we have no clue as to Martelly's capacity to deal with that kind of politics."

In his victory address on Tuesday, Martelly offered "solemn thanks" to the international community for supporting the electoral process.

Political time-bombs

He was knocked out of the race in December but reinstated a month later after international monitors found massive fraud in favour of the ruling party candidate and the United States, in particular, applied serious pressure on Preval.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been damning of the Haitian leadership since the quake and husband Bill co-chairs the reconstruction commission that controls the purse strings of international aid.

"I think how Martelly deals in the short term with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton is going to be of great significance because he is not well known and he has to appear someone who can move the country forward," Fatton said.

Potential political time-bombs lying in store for Martelly are recently returned former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and three-time president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected leader.

Martelly could even invite both to his inauguration as a grand gesture of reconciliation.

"I don't think there is any middle-ground with Martelly," concluded Fatton. "Either he is going to be a catastrophe or he is going to surprise everyone and manage to lead the country in a very different direction."