The 50-year-old entertainer transformed himself in the public eye into a successful businessman and campaigned for president in smart suits, hired Washington political consultants and addressed Haitians, especially the young, in a language of aspiration and frustration that they could understand.
Martelly was helped along by support from Haitian expatriate and hip-hop impresario Wyclef Jean, who was shot in the hand on the eve of the March 20 runoff.
Martelly received nearly 68 percent of the vote, electoral council spokesman Pierre Thibault said — a total that easily put him past Mirlande Manigat, the 70-year-old Sorbonne-trained scholar, opposition politician and former first lady of Haiti. Her husband, Leslie Manigat, was tossed out in a military coup in 1988 after four months in office.
Thibault’s announcement was immediately followed by noisy celebration in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The Associated Press reported that thousands of Martelly supporters poured into the city’s streets and that a singing and chanting crowd marched to his house.
Martelly will take over in May from the unpopular Rene Preval, widely seen as a cryptic leader who failed to inspire after last year’s devastating earthquake.
The country is also still reeling from the returns home of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in January and former shantytown priest and two-time president Jean-Bertrand Aristide last month.
In his campaign, Martelly promised to run a squeaky-clean government to take advantage of the $10 billion in international aid promised to the nation after the January 2010 earthquake destroyed the capital and killed an estimated 316,000, according to Haitian officials.
“I have clean hands,” Martelly said in an interview this year. In it, he said he wanted to provide free education to the poor and end a leadership vacuum filled by the U.S. Embassy, United Nations and thousands of aid groups that form a kind of parallel government in Haiti.
“We shouldn’t always be begging for money,” Martelly said. “We need a change in attitude.”
The Miami Herald reported, however, that Martelly had defaulted on his mortgages for three houses in South Florida and that banks foreclosed on his properties. Martelly said that he never lived in the houses and that he was the victim of bad investments and the recession. His critics have said that Martelly walked away from his financial responsibilities.
And Martelly crosses political boundaries. He has supported AIDS education campaigns and run a humanitarian group. He also was reportedly a friend of the notorious former Port-au-Prince police chief and alleged drug trafficker Michel Francois, who was a leader of the coup that removed Aristide.
Martelly was close to the former Haitian military. In his campaign, he promised to restore the army, which has been disbanded.