Michel Martelly Wins Haiti Election

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. (Reuters)

Michel Martelly Wins Haiti Election

'Sweet Micky' sweeps presidential runoff vote, defeating former first lady Mirlande Manigat, early results show

Michel Martelly has won a landslide victory in Haiti's presidential election, tapping into a desire for change in the earthquake-battered country.

Preliminary results from the provisional electoral council gave the 50-year-old entertainer and political outsider a clear win with nearly 68% of the vote, compared with less than 32% for his rival, Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady.

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

The new president 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 from the 20 March runoff, the first second-round presidential vote held in one of the world's poorest countries.

"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 the 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, a Haiti expert and politics professor at the University of Virginia.

"He captured the mood of the voters by cleverly using his 'bad boy' image to enhance his status as the ultimate 'outsider' who symbolized change."

The star of Haiti's Konpa carnival music whose onstage antics include wearing wigs and nappies 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 quake victims live in squalid camps under canvas.

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

To prevent trouble, UN peacekeepers patrolled Port-au-Prince and other potential flashpoints. Some stores had boarded up windows.

The UN and donor governments, including the US, which have pledged billions of dollars in reconstruction funds to Haiti, want a stable, legitimate leadership to take charge of the recovery.

The elections are choosing a successor to the outgoing president, Rene Preval, and new members of the parliament.

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

The US embassy called the announcement of the preliminary results "another important milestone as the people of Haiti move forward to rebuild their country".

It did not mention Martelly but said "while there were cases of irregularities and fraud on 20 March, 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."

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 runoff with Manigat, at the expense of a government-backed candidate dropped after alleged vote-rigging.

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.

"Martelly will have to deal with the reality that he will have little room to manoeuvre as Haiti's sovereignty is at bay and ... for good or ill he will be thoroughly dependent on outside financial assistance," he said.

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