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A New President, More Uncertainty for Haiti?

 The Final Call, News Report, Brian E. Muhammad

 

 

WASHINGTON - Though the final results of Haiti's presidential runoff held March 20 aren't officially due until April 16, the nation's electoral commission has announced its new president-elect—flamboyant musician and performer Michel Martelly'.

The president-elect replaces President René Préval who vacates office because of constitutional term limits.

Mr. Martelly's ascension to the top job over the impoverished nation was unexpected and astonished most who recall his off color antics and stage persona as “Sweet Micky” in the 1980s and '90s.

Victory came amid a contentious election saddled with corruption charges and questions about its legitimacy. The 50-year-old artist prevailed in a runoff, beating Mirlande Manigat, 70, the former first lady of Haiti and an establishment figure.

Mr. Martelly is a popular personality among young Haitians and gained office based on the hopes and aspirations of Haitians who feel disenfranchised and have lost confidence in government, according to analysts.

For Haiti, which has suffered a history of foreign interference, acute classism, abject poverty, destructive natural disasters and corrupt leadership, some observers saw Mr. Martelly's victory with 68 percent of the vote as a thumbs down to the political status quo.

He is a fresh face, untainted by the corruption that has stained politicians in the past, they argue.

“This vote was the REJECTION of the current political class in office since 2004 and all its ‘technocrats.' It was a REJECTION vote for Preval and his INITE party and it was a rejection of politics that's never garnered change for those most in need,” declared attorney and activist Ezili Danto of the Haitians Lawyers Leadership Network, on her Facebook page.

Though Mr. Martelly may have command of some voters on Haiti's streets, politically the Parliament is dominated by the ruling party of departing President Preval, potentially stalling any legislative advances and possibly complicating Mr. Martelly's choice for prime minister, who must be approved by the legislature. Further, some pundits argue low voter turnout prevents any Martally claim of a mandate of support from the Haitian people. Turnout for the runoff appeared was far poorer than previous elections. An Organization of American States and Caribbean Community analysis put voter turnout at 30 percent.

Firing back at critics who interpret low voter participation as a negative for him, Mr. Martelly was quoted in a New York Times article dismissing political foes as part of an old order the Haitian people reject.

“They are weak,” he said of the opposition, which could include the current governing party and its dominance of seats in the Parliament. “The people of Haiti want change. The opposition is part of what made us ask for change, so you can bring your expertise and assist us, but I don't think the opposition has the power to stop the will of the people,” said Mr. Martelly.

Dr. Ron Daniels, of the New York-based Haiti Support Project and president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, noted that the entire election lacked credibility. Though a message was sent by the voters, the runoff numbers of 23 to 30 percent participation was too small to gague the real pulse of the people, he commented.

“For those who did vote, it was clear that they were really fed up with the establishment, they were fed up, frankly, with President Préval,” said Dr. Daniels in a telephone interview with The Final Call. “You have a government which they don't see as delivering to them,” he continued.

Dr. Daniels stressed his view that the election should never have been held. The first round of voting was “not inclusive,” “fraught with fraud,” and too many people were excluded, particularly Haitians displaced by the January 2010 earthquake. He had advocated Haiti taking six months to ensure voters were registered and redoing the election with all parties represented—including Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president in Haiti. President Artistide, who endured years of exile in South Africa, was overthrown in a United States backed coup in 2004. He returned to his native country just before the run-off took place.

Abayomi Azikiwe, political analyst and editor of the Pan-Afrikan News Wire, agreed that the elections were exclusionary and unfair.

“I don't think the sentiment of the people can be accurately assessed or judged because the largest political party in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas. is essentially banned by the Electoral Commission,” said Mr. Azikiwe. Until Lavalas can be a full participant in the political system, no election result will represent the desire of Haitians, he said.

Complicating the difficult situation is the presence of Mr. Aristide and another formerly exiled leader who have returned to the country. Haiti's politics and plight remain serious with questions about who is equipped to move the Caribbean nation forward as it rebuilds from the ruins of an earthquake which killed 300,000 people and displaced about one million more.

The arrival of Jean Claude Duvalier after 25 years in exile was a reminder of a dark time of repression and violent dictatorship, raising suspicion and dread among some Haitians about his motives. “Baby Doc” Duvalier represents the old guard elite, which has enjoyed riches and U.S. support in the past.

Mr. Aristide remains popular among the poor Haitian masses despite being toppled and forced out seven years ago.

The only president to complete a full term is Rene Preval, who served two terms, and came into government under the Aristide administration. He is not popular among many Haitians but was credited with lowering the country's political tensions, though he is not seen as a charismatic figure.

“Duvalier is going to be a nonfactor,” predicted Dr. Daniels, citing the ex-dictator's serious legal problems and threat of prosecution for the crimes attributed to his administration. Former President Aristide said in published reports he intends to promote educational projects to help Haiti recover from the January 2010 earthquake.

However, for Mr. Martelly, Mr. Aristide's presence highlights his own adversarial history against the former leader and ties to Haitian collaborators in Mr. Aristide's ousting.

“Martelly is pals with the former bloody military and drug dealers like Michel Francois as well as death squad enforcers for the U.S. like FRAPH's, Louis Jodel Chamblain and U.S.-Special forces-trained, Guy Phillip. This makes him even scarier,” wrote Ms. Danto online.

FRAPH—The Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti—was a paramilitary group established with the help of the U.S. during the 1990s. The group was charged with murdering thousands of Aristide supporters and Mr. Martelly, a staunch Aristide critic, allegedly had close relationships with the group's leaders.

Another question is how will Mr. Martelly's election impact the multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations and traditional elites vying for control and influence in the financially lucrative business to reestablish Haiti?

“He was a wild card for them (Haiti's elite) too,” said Dr. Daniels. “This came as a shock for them. they would not have preferred Martelly as a candidate simply because of the unpredictability of the matter.”

Dr. Daniels predicts the oligarchs, the United States and the international community will each lobby around their own interests. Moreover Mr. Martelly won't have a free hand to do as he pleases largely with billions of dollars in unfulfilled pledges toward Haiti's reconstruction outstanding and donor governments reluctant to release funds to an unknown actor.

Coupled with the aid issue are weighty concerns about lingering conditions since the earthquake, continued U.S. meddling in Haitian affairs and corporations seeking to exploit Haiti as a cheap labor market to be addressed, added Mr. Azikiwe.

As president-elect, Mr. Martelly is faced with a daunting juggling act of managing these powerful influences, voices and aspirations attempting to direct Haiti's future, albeit not necessarily for the Haitian people.

“He has an opportunity to do the right thing. I say that optimistically, hopefully, but I must say, I have some skepticism,” said Dr. Daniels.



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