Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Michel Martelly’s Short Honeymoon (The Fresh Outlook)

By. Nicole Phillips, The Fresh Outlook
May 3, 2011

Nicole Phillips is a Staff Attorney at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. Here she discusses the recent announcement of Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly as Haiti’s new President.

Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, Haiti’s President-elect, has won the hearts of the international community and foreign press, but enjoys much less enthusiasm from his own citizens. With Martelly at her side, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared at a press conference last week that the election “offered the people of Haiti an opportunity to give voice to their dreams for their country’s future.” The reality that 83.3% of registered voters did not vote for Martelly, however, might make this Haitian honeymoon short.

Despite strong international support for Martelly, he barely made it onto the ballot for the March 20 runoff elections. Martelly came in third place in the first round of elections on November 28, with former first lady Mirlande Manigat and the current government’s party candidate Jude Celestin as the front-running candidates. Only the top two candidates are allowed to proceed to the runoff elections.

Given widespread voter fraud and historically low voter turnout (22.8%) due in part to the illegal exclusion of political parties in the first round of elections, Haitian people, human rights organisations and 12 of the 19 Presidential candidates (including Martelly and Manigat) called for new, fair elections. But rather than supporting new elections, the international community imposed its own idea of democracy. The U.S. government, with the help of the Organization of American States, pressured the Haitian government to alter election results so that Martelly instead of Celestin would be one of the runoff candidates.

The Haitian government caved in to the pressure after the U.S. government revoked visas of several top officials of the Haitian government, threatened to freeze aid money, and sent Secretary Clinton to Haiti, even during the political crisis in Egypt, to insist that the election results be reversed and runoff elections be scheduled promptly. Martelly’s thugs did their part by closing down Port-au-Prince with violent protests after the results were announced. As a result, two right-wing presidential candidates who had received combined support from only 11% of all registered Haitian voters went to the runoff elections.

While seen to Haitians as a president imposed by the U.S. government, Martelly is seen by the U.S. as a “good partner” in reconstruction. The U.S. is contributing $124 million towards one of the first major projects since the earthquake – a new industrial park in Northern Haiti valued at $300 million. The Miami Herald reported that so much is at stake in the project that “some Haiti observers mused that it was perhaps one of the reasons for the United States’ heavy involvement in the Nov. 28 presidential election debacle.” Martelly has assured the international community that he will support projects like this one and any project that “will help exports; anything that will create jobs; anything that will help the private sector.”

But the imbalance in Martelly’s support spells trouble for his presidency. Martelly’s government will need to ask its citizens to make sacrifices in order to implement the reconstruction plans. People will have to endure many inconveniences as damaged cities are reinvested and rebuilt – some might have to relocate their homes and businesses, go without water, government services and even food.

A government can obtain these kinds of sacrifices in two ways: it can develop trust or it can use force. A government elected by 16.7% of the voters, who could chose only parties approved by the outgoing government, will be hard-pressed to develop trust. As 45 members of the U.S. Congress warned Secretary Clinton last October, supporting flawed elections “will come back to haunt the international community by generating unrest and threatening the implementation of earthquake reconstruction projects.” Republican Senator Richard Lugar also warned that “[the] absence of democratically elected successors could potentially plunge the country into chaos”.

Without the support from the people who he needs to govern, President Martelly may have to compel Haitians’ cooperation through force. Martelly’s pledge to bring back the Haitian military, demobilised by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995 because of its notorious human rights record, suggests that he may already anticipate the need for force. Martelly’s associations with right wing dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and the military coup governments of 1991 and 2004 make Haitians fear he will not tolerate dissent.

Martelly’s real constituency lies with the international community, as evidenced by his pilgrimage to the White House while his presidential results were being announced. Secretary Clinton reciprocated by declaring Martelly’s success “a personal priority for me, my husband and many of us here in Washington”. The reality is that President Martelly is now our man in Port-au-Prince. Secretary Clinton got what she wanted, but now the Administration has an obligation to the Haitian people to ensure that Martelly respects their rights and makes his political honeymoon one to remember for the right reasons.

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