In this Feb. 27 photo, Haiti's presidential candidate Michel Martelly campaigns as Haiti-born singer Wyclef Jean, left, walks beside him. (Photo: AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
The last votes have been counted, a winner has been declared and a country’s future lays in the balance. Can Haiti’s newly elected president help the country rebuild from years of poverty, corruption and devastation?
Thousands of supporters took to the streets to celebrate the victory of Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, a musician-turned politician. Martelly took almost 68 percent of the vote defeating former first lady Mirlande Manigat, according to preliminary results. Known for his flamboyant stage act, Martelly is viewed as an unlikely savior by critics. However to Haiti’s youth and an island plagued with high-unemployment rates, he is viewed as an agent of change—a Barack Obama of sorts.
Similar to the U.S. president, Martelly has a long list of problems to address. On top of having to rebuild years of crumbling infrastructure, the president of Haiti must also manage the millions of dollars of foreign aid allocated to help the country rebuild after last year’s devastating earthquake. The ongoing cholera epidemic is also an issue of immediate concern. On the political front, Martelly inherits former President Rene Preval’s parliament, where he is likely to receive little-to-no support.
Despite the obstacles, Martelly and the people of Haiti have high hopes for change.
One of Martelly’s highlights was education. The elected leader has promised the children of Haiti a free education, a boon in a country where many children can’t afford proper schooling. It is unclear, however, how he will be able to fulfill that promise. He has also placed a target on political corruption, but critics point out his past connections to military and political leaders associated with former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Martelly has also proposed reinstating the Haitian army disbanded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, however there are no immediate plans or funding for proper training. Martelly’s largest platform, however, is making Haiti self-reliant, no longer having to depend on foreign aid or security forces, but with the rebuilding yet to begin, there’s little chance that the country will be able to achieve this goal during one presidential term.
Martelly has the support of the international community, including the United States. The U.S. embassy located in Port au Prince released a statement on the initial results stating that Haiti has reached "another important milestone as the people of Haiti move forward to rebuild their country.”
As the world imagines a new era for Haiti, full of potential, a nascent politico prepares for the biggest performance of his life on the world stage. In lieu of making a speech, President Martelly turned to Twitter to make his first presidential statement.
"We'll work for all Haitians. Together we can do it."