Haiti, recovering from a devastating earthquake in January 2010 and decades of government corruption, has elected one of its best-loved pop singers as president.
On Apr. 4, Haiti's electoral council announced that Michel Martelly won nearly 68 per cent of the vote in a March 20 run-off election.
The president-elect was born in Port-au-Prince to a middle-class family. Martelly had early aspirations of being a doctor but failed to get into medical school. He spent a good part of the 1980s in Lakewood, Colo., where he went to college and got a job in construction. He returned to Haiti in 1987, where he got work filling in on keyboards for a number of local bands. Having long had a gift for music, Martelly soon turned it into a livelihood.
Martelly released his first single, Ooh La La, in 1988, and under the moniker Sweet Micky, has become one of Haiti's most popular musical acts. Martelly is the self-dubbed president of kompas, a style of dance music sung in Haitian Creole, and is legendary for his exuberant, sometimes outré performances, which include wild costumes, burlesque and political satire.
Martelly has had a long association with Wyclef Jean, the Grammy-winning U.S.-Haitian musician who also had designs on the Haitian presidency before the country's electoral council ruled in August 2010 that he did not meet the eligibility criteria to run. His own hopes dashed, Jean campaigned on Martelly's behalf.
Martelly has four children with his wife and manager, Sophia Martelly, who was born in New York to Haitian parents. With her, he runs the Fondation Rose et Blanc, an aid organization for the poor, one of several charitable causes the singer has been involved with.
While he has enjoyed popularity as an entertainer, Martelly was a political outsider who initially had difficulty even finding a party to run for. Some observers wondered how this raucous pop star, known for swearing and drinking alcohol on stage, could be taken seriously as a politician in a nation still reeling from a earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people and a cholera outbreak that has taken an additional 4,000 lives.
But in a country where government provides little support and is rife with graft, Martelly's populist, anti-corruption platform struck a chord. Martelly campaigned on a pledge of profound change, vowing to offer free education for all and to create new economic opportunities.
Mirlande Manigat, the soft-spoken, Sorbonne-educated wife of former president Leslie Manigat, had the lead in the first round of voting in November 2010, which narrowed an electoral field of 18 candidates down to two for the runoff. But in December, Haiti was riven by riots over suspected voter fraud after the electoral council announced first-round results that initially excluded Martelly from the runoff.
The Organization of American States determined those results were erroneous and that the musician had come in second, giving him a spot on the run-off ballot. He won the run-off with a resounding 68 per cent of the vote.
Martelly is expected to take office in mid-May, once a two-week grace period that allows for appeals of election results has passed and his victory has been confirmed.
While Martelly won with a pledge to end government corruption and misrule, some press reports have questioned his commitment to democracy. During the 1980s, he ran a nightclub that was popular with officials in the government of dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. A public critic of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Martelly had known ties to the 1991 military coup that unseated Aristide and established the bloody military junta that ruled Haiti between 1991 and 1994.
In a 1997 article in the Miami Herald, journalist Elise Ackerman wrote, "Unlike other Haitian musicians... who risked their lives to criticize the de facto military government, Martelly spent the coup years entertaining leaders and their factotums."
His past political sympathies notwithstanding, Martelly is likely to face difficulties in affecting political change in a legislative system that still contains so many loyalists to outgoing President René Préval.