By Own Correspondent with support from American View – THE streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, erupted in joy last night after electoral officials declared Michel Martelly, a kompa singer known as “Sweet Micky”, the winner of the country’s chaotic presidential race. There were fireworks, dancing in the streets, and an awful symphony of car-honking punctuated by gunshots fired in the air—a rare moment of jubilation in the earthquake-ravaged nation. “It’s as if Haiti just won the World Cup,” said one American aid worker.
The result is technically preliminary, and subject to contestation before the final results are announced on April 16th. Still, Mr Martelly won by such a large margin—the current figures give him two-thirds of the vote—that is safe to say that Haiti’s four-month-long presidential campaign is at last over.
The election was a contest of opposites. Mr Martelly, now 50 years old, was best-known for dressing in drag and mooning the crowd on stage, and has admitted to smoking crack cocaine. In 1995 he vowed to perform nude on top of the National Palace if he became president—a promise he will not have to keep, since the building was damaged in Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake. As a candidate, he toned down his antics and swapped his padded bras for bespoke suits. Nonetheless, the country’s youthful population still delighted in his spirited, playful campaign. They called him “Tet Kale,” a reference to his “peeled”, or bald, head.
There was no nickname for his opponent, Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady and university vice-rector. Although Ms Manigat won a plurality in the first round of voting, while Mr Martelly barely made it to second place, her establishment credentials and motherly mien didn’t appeal to voters. Some chanted “Tet Kale” at her rallies.
Barring major disruptions or a dramatic reversal of the results between now and May 14th, when René Préval leaves office, Mr Martelly will be Haiti’s first democratically elected leader without ties to the movement that led to the 1986 ouster of Jean-Claude Duvalier, a dictator. Figuring out where the president-elect stands on the ideological spectrum is difficult. He was a vocal supporter and close friend of the brutal paramilitary leaders of a 1991 coup and has talked of reinstituting the army, causing many Haitian intellectuals to fear he is a right-wing demagogue. His supporters waive off such talk. “He went down that road, but he came up it again,” said Sony Joseph, a 30-year-old construction worker from Martissant, citing Mr Martelly’s talk of job creation and education.
Whatever policies Mr Martelly champions, the road ahead will be as rutted, rocky, and slow-going as one in Haiti’s hinterlands. Members of Mr Préval’s Inite party dominate the newly elected legislature. And despite Mr Martelly’s visible support on the street, his mandate is not particularly broad. Just 22% of voters turned out for the second round, recalling, perhaps, the title of one of Mr Martelly’s mid-1990s hit albums: “I Don’t Care”.