Haiti's Presidential Elections

Originally published

On the Issues by Robert M. Perito

April 5, 2011

Who won Haiti's presidential election?

Preliminary results on April 4, 2011 indicated that Haiti's first runoff presidential election ended with a victory for an unlikely candidate, Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, a carnival singer who transformed himself into a polished campaigner who appealed to the nation's youth. Martelly defeated Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady, former senator and law professor. The March 20 runoff voting was orderly, but a review of the results discovered incidents of fraud and irregular voting.

There was no repeat, however, of the violent demonstrations that greeted the results of the November 28 round when it was announced that the government's candidate had finished second, eliminating Martelly. Following an investigation by the Organization of American States and a visit from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the government candidate withdrew and Martelly remained in the runoff.

What do we know about the president-elect?

Not much is known about the Martelly's political views or how he will behave once in office. Martelly's supporters say he is a quick study, open minded and committed to change. The candidates had similar platforms calling for universal education, improved housing, better health care and increased government services.

Both favored restoring Haiti's army that was disbanded in 1995. As neither candidate provided specifics, the voter's choice turned on their distinct personalities.

Martelly is famous for promoting "compas," a Haitian style of music. He campaigned with international hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, a national hero whose own presidential bid failed because of a residency requirement. Martelly's rallies were more like rock concerts with youthful supporters dancing and joining him in the choruses of his popular songs.

What is at stake in Haiti's election?

Despite the election of a new president, Haiti's future political stability is an open question. The unexpected return from exile of two former leaders, two-time president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, raised expectations of their followers and questions about their intentions.

Haitians must now wait patiently for the inauguration which will likely be held on May 14 when President Rene Preval leaves office.

The president-elect has never held public office and lacks a formal education.

There is little evidence that he has the expertise required to lead Haiti when the rubble still has not been cleared and people remain homeless from the January 2010 earthquake. Selection of a prime minister to run the government will take on particular importance as will the attitudes of those elected to parliament. Results for 77 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and seven seats in the Senate have not yet been announced. It will take time to select ministers and for parliament to approve a new government, a luxury that Haiti can ill afford.