Image: Musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly greets his supporters
Allison Shelley  /  Getty Images
Haitian president-elect Michel Martelly greets supporters after a press conference announcing preliminary results of the election on Tuesday, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Martelly took 68 percent of the vote.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/5/2011 7:46:48 PM ET 2011-04-05T23:46:48

Haiti's pop-star-turned-president-elect donned a conservative gray suit Tuesday for his first news conference since his upset victory as Haitians wondered how this charismatic musician with a bad-boy past would govern the country in crisis.

As he did on the campaign trail, 50-year-old Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly avoided any specifics about how he would lead, but appeared as far as possible from his outrageous stage persona as he spoke of reconciliation with political opponents and improving the lives of people in the most desperate, star-crossed nation in the Western Hemisphere.

"I would like to say first that I have always had the desire to change my country," Martelly said. "I have a passion to change my country."

Many Haitians are wondering just what sort of change Martelly will bring to a country that is confronting problems on many fronts, including the stalled reconstruction from the January 2010 earthquake, a cholera outbreak, hundreds of thousands of homeless and more than half the population unemployed.

Asked during an interview about his priorities for his first three months in office, Martelly, who has never held office, dodged the question like a seasoned politician: "Our common sense tells us that in the 100-day period, we will barely have the time to build a small house."

Pressed for more, he did it again: "We are not going into specifics at this time," he said, citing a need to "surprise" people.

Martelly is best known for his wild antics as a popular performer playing "compas," Haiti's high-energy, slowed-down version of merengue. His shows — he started in the mid-1980s and reached the height of his career in the '90s — became legendary, for he was a bona fide provocateur. As the self-proclaimed "bad boy of compas," he donned diapers and dresses, mooned the audience, cursed his rivals and spouted obscenities.

But his outsider image apparently resonated with voters. Haiti's electoral council said late Monday that preliminary results showed that he captured nearly 68 percent of the vote in the March 20 runoff against Mirlande Manigat, a former senator and first lady.

Martelly had placed behind Manigat in the first round in November. The musician said there was no question why.

"There was a system eating at them, consuming them alive," he said of the voters. "The disgust that people felt with the certain situation has created the need for them to see things change."

Manigat wasn't ready to concede. The 70-year-old, Sorbonne-educated grandmother said her team was still looking into allegations of fraud. "You voted, and they stole your vote at the tabulation center," she said at a news conference.

The candidates were vying to succeed President Rene Preval, barred by the constitution from running for a third term. The new president must contend with a Senate and Chamber of Deputies controlled by Preval's party.

Haiti's electoral council said 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 there were more votes cast than registered voters at some polling stations. Final results are to be announced April 16.

A lot of Martelly's support comes from the young and unemployed, who make up much of the country. Older, more educated voters often said they were turned off by his past antics. But he proved to be an adept campaigner, turning his lack of experience into an asset, just as he turned his lack of hair into a catchy campaign slogan — "the bald one."

Martelly's run for office gained little attention at first, overshadowed by the short-lived campaign of the better-known hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who was declared ineligible to run.

Martelly, who usually dressed in bright pink short-sleeve shirts on the campaign trail, said his experience as a musician was good preparation for running for office, even if his past antics came back to haunt him.

"In music you want to please your fans," he told The Associated Press before the election. "But sometimes it's very controversial. ... In politics you have to be responsible."

During the campaign, he deftly depicted himself as a 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 promising to create economic opportunity amid almost universal unemployment. But details were sometimes elusive.
"He said he will send all students to school," said Telson Elli, 23, an agronomy student at a university in downtown Port-au-Prince. "So I suppose he will have to raise taxes."

Nevertheless, the student said: "I'm very optimistic for Martelly. He has passion, which is a very important part of leadership. We want a president who is concrete, who takes action. And we sense that he is that sort of guy."

The son of an oil company executive, Martelly grew up in Carrefour, a section of Port-au-Prince that is now largely poor and run-down but was fairly middle class when he lived there. He attended a prestigious Catholic school in the capital 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. A few years later, Martelly found his calling — compas.

While news of his victory sent his supporters surging into the streets, there were skeptics as well.

Bardinal Daniel, a 37-year-old psychologist, said he was suspicious of Martelly's alleged links to people affiliated with Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictator who made a surprise return from exile in January.

"I don't know if he's violent, but with his people he could do all sorts of things," Daniel said. "Martelly isn't interested in inclusion. He conquered people with his music, and he got young voters that way."

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"Martelly's victory implies a rejection of the political class that has both governed and been in the opposition," said Robert Fatton Jr., a Haiti expert and professor in the University of Virginia's Department of Politics.

"Martelly captured the mood of the voters by cleverly using his 'bad boy' image to enhance his status as the ultimate 'outsider' who symbolized change," he told Reuters.

Fatton said Haiti's heavy dependence on foreign assistance to tackle the huge challenge of post-quake recovery could limit Martelly's ability to radically transform Haiti's economic and political system.

"He will have to deal with the reality that he will have little room to maneuver as Haiti's sovereignty is at bay and ... for good or ill he will be thoroughly dependent on outside financial assistance," he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: A year after quake, Haiti still rebuilding

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  1. A Haitian woman prays with a Bible in her hand during ceremonies to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2011.The quake flattened much of the capital Port-au-Prince. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Haitians hold hands during a ceremony at St. Christophe, where thousands of victims of the 2010 earthquake are buried, in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. Haiti began two days of remembrance ceremonies in honor of the nearly quarter million people who died in an earthquake. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Haiti President Rene Preval holds a wreath of flowers at a mass grave site at Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 11. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Haitian workers celebrate after the inauguration of the reconstructed Hyppolite Iron Market in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. The historic trading center was originally constructed in the 1890s and has been rebuilt this year after a fire leveled it shortly after the earthquake. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman walks past an earthquake-damaged building on Jan. 11 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the eve of the first anniversary of the earthquake. (Paul Chiasson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Martina Raymond, 5, center, stands in front of her family tent with neighbors Revdania Henry, 4, left, and Henderson Henry, 2, in a makeshift camp at the Petionville golf club on Jan. 11 in Port-au-Prince. According to UNICEF, more than half of the 4 million children in Haiti still do not attend school. In addition to educational difficulties, Haiti's children also suffer from poor access to basic water, health care and sanitation. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An aerial view of a tent city in a Port-au-Prince on Jan. 10. (Thony Belizaire / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A woman walks at a mass grave site at Tituyan, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Residents stand near an abandoned airplane in the middle of La Piste camp on January 11 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The camp is located on a former military airport and houses approximately 50,000 Haitians displaced by the earthquake. The one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people will be marked on January 12. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer players from Haiti's Zaryen team (in blue) and the national amputee team fight for the ball during a friendly match at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince on Jan.10. Sprinting on their crutches at breakneck speed, the young soccer players who lost legs in Haiti's earthquake last year project a symbol of hope and resilience in a land where so much is broken. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Presidential candidate Jude Celestin, center, gestures to supporters during a campaign rally in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Jan 10. An Organization of American States international monitoring team will recommend on Monday to President Rene Preval that Haiti's government-backed candidate Jude Celestin be eliminated from a presidential runoff election in favor of Michel Martelly, a popular musician who finished a close third in the contested official results, according to a copy of a report obtained by the Associated Press. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Students practice a lesson at L'ecole Nationale Filles de Marie (Daughters of Mary National School) near the end of the school day on Jan. 10, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Catholic school collapsed during the earthquake in 2010, killing 16 nuns, but no students died because they had left for the day. The school has been partially rebuilt and houses 600 students. According to UNICEF, more than half of four million Haitian children still do not attend school. Approximately 5,000 schools were damaged by the earthquake and rebuilding has been crippled by the clearing of rubble and land issues. In addition to educational difficulties, Haiti's children also suffer from inequitable access to basic water, health care and sanitation. Jan. 12 is the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A Haitian evangelical parishioner looks up during a mass to remember earthquake victims at national stadium in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. Haiti will this week mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed much of capital Port-au-Prince. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Achebelle Debora St. Til, 6, dances at the Festival of Hope, a rally led by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, at a soccer stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A boy plays in a refuse-clogged canal in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. When the ground shook Haiti a year ago, toppling homes like cards and killing some 200,000 people, world leaders promised quick action to ease the human tragedy and rebuild the country. A year on, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country is still reeling from the earthquake, and the international community's capacity to deliver and sustain aid effectively is being sorely tested. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Haitians stay in a tent erected in a destroyed house in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Orich Florestal, 24, left, and Rosemond Altidon, 22, stand on the edge of their partially destroyed apartment on Jan. 9. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman prays during services in front of the destroyed Port-au-Prince Cathedral on Jan. 9. Haitians gather for services outside the destroyed cathedral every Sunday. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. People walk on a street in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. People displaced by the massive 2010 earthquake live in temporary shelters put up by Samaritan's Purse, a charity, on Jan. 8 in Cabaret, Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in temporary shelters. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The Presidential Palace is still in ruins as displaced people live in tents in a park across the street almost one year after the massive earthquake on Jan. 8 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Haitians wash clothes and hang them to dry on rebar remnants of a building destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Parishioners from St. Louis King of France Catholic Church dedicate a cross and a memorial put up in memory of the tens of thousands of people killed in the massive earthquake and buried in the mass grave at Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Velune Noel, 24, lies with her cholera-infected 12-month-old son Peterson Sharmont, on a cot at a Samaritan's Purse cholera treatment center in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 8. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Haitian man builds a wooden house Jan. 8 next to houses destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Reconstruction has barely begun in Haiti a year after its catastrophic earthquake, a leading international charity said on Wednesday in a report sharply critical of a recovery commission led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. People play soccer at the site of earthquake-damaged houses in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 7. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Haitians work on rebuilding an iron market building destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A man removes debris from the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 6, 2011. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: A Haitian woman prays during ceremonies to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince
    Kena Betancur / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (28) Haiti : One year after the earthquake
  2. Image:
    Guillermo Arias / AP
    Slideshow (13) Violence in Haiti
  3. Image:
    Nadav Neuhaus for msnbc.com
    Slideshow (14) One year later, new hope for young amputee
  4. Nadav Neuhaus
    Slideshow (5) A mother's burden

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