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Musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly has scored a come-from-behind victory in Haiti's presidential runoff, according to preliminary results from last month's election showing he easily defeated a former first lady for the leadership of a country facing enormous challenges.
Martelly, who has never held political office, received nearly 68 percent of the vote in the two-way race with Mirlande Manigat, electoral council spokesman Pierre Thibault said in an announcement that was immediately followed by noisy celebration in the Haitian capital.
Thousands of Martelly supporters poured into the streets of Port-au-Prince, carrying Martelly posters, climbing on to cars and cheering. A huge crowd of singing and chanting supporters marched to his house.
"Today is a big day for me," Jeanor Destine, 22, said as he ran through the streets. "We're finished with the old government and want to bring in a new government. We've been through so much misery. That's why we're supporting Martelly."
The popular musician, a star of the Haitian genre known as compas, had trailed Manigat in the crowded first-round election in November. But his campaign gained momentum in the second round, with many voters seemingly enchanted with his lack of political experience in a country where the government has failed to provide basic services.
In a message posted in Creole on Twitter, the popular musician thanked his supporters: "Thank you for your confidence ... We're going to work for all Haitians. Together we can."
Haiti's electoral council said that about 23 percent of the 4.7 million registered voters cast ballots. Serge Audate, an elections official, said about 15 percent of the tally sheets had problems suggesting possible fraud, including cases in which more votes were cast than registered voters in some polling stations, and had to be quarantined. Final results are to be announced April 16.
Still, the fact that the results were not yet final did not deter jubilant supporters.
"I'm going to celebrate with the people, then I'm going home to my kids," Wilson Goren, a 32-year-old street vendor, said as fireworks erupted around him after the results were announced.
Martelly's campaign for president seemed at first like an afterthought, overshadowed by the short-lived campaign of the better-known star star Wyclef Jean, who was declared inelgible to run.
Many said that Martelly's history of crude onstage antics would prevent him from winning. Indeed, Manigat, a university administrator and former senator, and her supporters made much of it during the campaign by stressing her "morality" and urging people to call her "mother."
But the 50-year-old Martelly turned out to be a serious and skilled candidate. When initial results of the flawed first round showed he was out of the race, he mobilised supporters to protest as if he were a veteran of Haiti's rough politics. He ran a disciplined campaign, deftly depicting himself as an outsider and neophyte even though he has long been active in politics.
He promised profound change for Haiti, vowing to provide free education in a country where more than half the children can't afford school and to create economic opportunity amid almost universal unemployment.
The son of an oil company executive, Martelly grew up in Carrefour, part of the dense urban mass that makes up the capital. He attended a prestigious Catholic school in Port-au-Prince and junior colleges in the United States, though he never graduated. He worked as construction worker in Miami in the 1980s, a time when he says he occasionally smoked marijuana and crack cocaine.
A few years later, Martelly found his calling - playing compas, Haiti's high-energy, slowed-down version of merengue.
Over time, Martelly's shows became legendary, for he was a bona fide provocateur. As the self-proclaimed "bad boy of compas," Martelly mooned the audience, cursed his rivals, and donned diapers and dresses. Many credit him for reviving compas and proving Haitian musicians could earn a decent living.
The candidates were vying to replace President Rene Preval, who was barred by the constitution from serving a third term.
The new president will face a challenging environment that includes a Senate and Chamber of Deputies controlled by Preval's party and widespread anger over the slow progress of reconstruction from the January 2010 earthquake. Haiti also is grappling with a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 4000 people since October and is expected to worsen with the spring rainy season.
Haiti's largest cities were paralysed by riots in December after the electoral council announced first-round results that initially excluded Martelly from the runoff. The Organisation of American States later determined those results were incorrect and the musician had come in second, giving him a spot on the second ballot.
Some observers say international allies overstepped their bounds when the OAS insisted that election officials re-examine the results. Martelly already has a cloud over his presidency, experts add.
"He faces a bit of legitimacy crisis," said Henry Carey, a political scientist at Georgia State University who studies Haitian politics. "He has to earn legitimacy through performance. That means he is going to have to be extraordinary capable."
Much of the Haitian capital remains in ruins from the earthquake, which the government says killed more than 300,000 people. A multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort has been slow to start in part because of the chaos from the first round of the presidential election and political uncertainty.
Experts say legislative opposition will be a challenge, with the new president expected to face difficulty getting approval for his pick for prime minister and Cabinet members, which require parliamentary approval.
"He doesn't have any kind of backing in parliament. It's controlled by Preval," said Yves Colon, a journalism professor at the University of Miami who follows Haitian politics. "It makes me wonder how he'll be able to achieve anything with that kind of dynamics. Proposed laws could be held up or not even brought up for a vote. The next five years could be a total back forth between the presidency and the parliament."