BEFORE HE went into politics, Haitian President Michel Martelly was a nationally renowned pop star whose stage antics included mooning his adoring fans. As president, Mr. Martelly, whose five years in office are drawing to a close, has treated his constituents, Haiti’s 10 million citizens, with no more dignity or respect.
Mr. Martelly is largely to blame for having led the country into electoral and political chaos, with no prospect of electing a successor to replace him by Feb. 7, as the Haitian constitution requires. Having governed as a virtual autocrat for much of his term, as a consequence of failing to hold timely elections to replace term-limited local officials and members of parliament, Mr. Martelly was instrumental in creating the conditions for a shambolic first round of presidential elections, in October.
That ballot’s polling-place shenanigans and eyebrow-raising outcome hardly inspired confidence. The first-place finisher, a heretofore obscure agricultural promoter named Jovenel Moise, known as the “Banana Man,” was Mr. Martelly’s hand-picked successor. The only question involved the extent of the fraud — whether it was massive and systemic or merely widespread.
Despite good-faith efforts by international diplomats to salvage a presidential runoff, originally scheduled for Dec. 27, the damage was done. After having been postponed to Sunday, the runoff was undone by the toxicity that surrounds Mr. Martelly’s presidency and the distrust engendered by the Provisional Electoral Council. With street violence intensifying and the Banana Man’s chief rival, No. 2 finisher Jude Celestin, having withdrawn from the proceedings, leaving a one-man race, the electoral council announced Friday that the elections were canceled.
What happens next is a mystery. A transitional government might avert a power vacuum and anarchy, but the constitution, which limits Mr. Martelly to a single five-year term, contains no such provision. As throngs of street protesters demand that Mr. Martelly leave office as scheduled, elites from the private sector and civil society, along with U.S. and other diplomats, are trying to broker a solution.
Mr. Martelly is hardly the first terrible leader to afflict Haiti and leave ruination in his wake. Still, he may be chiefly remembered for having squandered more goodwill and opportunity than many of his corrupt, self-serving, pocket-lining predecessors.
He took office just a year after the cataclysmic 2010 earthquake shattered the nation, with billions of dollars of foreign aid pouring in. And he had the advantage of being the only democratically elected Haitian president to take power from a democratically elected predecessor. It’s fair to wonder now when that will next take place.
The United States, whose influence in Haitian politics is considerable, dumped more than $33 million into the presidential elections, to no good effect. Although some Haitians distrust Washington’s intentions, it’s likely that without a stronger U.S. diplomatic role, the country’s pandemonium will only deepen.