Haiti’s Voters Divide along Personality Lines for Presidential Candidates

The Los Angeles Times claims that “Personality, not politics, divides Haiti’s presidential candidates.” The article claims that voters are divided between the sober scholar, Mirlande Manigat (portrayed as “grandmotherly”) and the kompa-singing “naughty-boy performer,” Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. It is “Micky” versus “Madame Manigat,” as voters call them. Meanwhile, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is depicted as a wild card. Read excerpts here:

Dozens of supporters straddle motorcycles, bobbing their heads beneath bandannas—hot pink—that bear the candidate’s name. The beat-heavy dance music that has others swaying and shaking also carries the candidate’s stamp—they’re his songs. By the time Haitian singer Michel Martelly clambers atop a pickup to speak, the thumping recorded kompa music has lent this mountaintop farm town, bedecked in pink campaign posters, the feel of a street fair.

Not every presidential contender can serve as warm-up act and headliner. Martelly, known as “Sweet Micky” and long famous for ribald verbal riffs and outrageous, pants-dropping stage antics, wants to be Haiti’s next leader. After legal skirmishing that saw the ruling party candidate booted from the runoff amid fraud allegations, the 50-year-old singer faces off March 20 against Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady who is two decades older.

With not much in the way of politics dividing the two right-of-center candidates, voters may be left to weigh backgrounds and styles, which are as different as those of a lampshade-wearing uncle and tsk-tsking grandmother. Martelly, a political rookie, is a naughty-boy performer seeking to tap into voters’ desperation by running as a populist outsider. [. . .] “The battle is just beginning,” Martelly said. He looked tame in jeans and a Ralph Lauren windbreaker, though his wide-brimmed hat was dyed Day-Glo pink. Campaign posters show him in a dark blazer and tie.

Manigat, 70, a respected constitutional scholar whose husband, Leslie, was president briefly during the late 1980s, pitches herself as the sober choice to face Haiti’s overlapping crises, which include widespread damage from last year’s devastating earthquake, a deadly cholera epidemic and deep and chronic poverty. [. . .] At a rally in an impoverished neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Manigat emphasized education and public safety, and played up that she is a woman. She cast herself as reliable, a motherly figure capable of tough decisions.

[. . .] The two candidates head into the runoff after a controversial first round marred by disarray, fraud and low voter turnout. Election officials hope to prevent a repeat of the chaos by hiring and training thousands of poll workers and opening a round-the-clock hotline to help the country’s 4.6 million registered voters find polling stations. [. . .] Manigat got the most votes of 19 candidates during the first round. Martelly placed third, but was allowed into the runoff last month after the Organization of American States concluded that the second-place finisher, Jude Celestin, had edged him out because of fraud.

It remains to be seen whether voters will turn out for an election that does not include Haiti’s ruling party or the leftist party of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide’s Miami-based lawyer, Ira Kurzban, has derided the race as being like a presidential contest between “an unpopular Republican and an unpopular ‘tea party’ candidate, with no Democrat allowed to compete.”

[. . .] Martelly was quickly endorsed by hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who is popular among young Haitians but couldn’t launch his own candidacy because of residency requirements. Martelly, who is being advised by a Spanish consultant who helped get Felipe Calderon elected president of Mexico in 2006, is reaching out to voters through new media, such as Facebook and Twitter. “He’s the candidate of the young,” said Madeline Auguste, who recently turned 18 and plans to cast her first vote for Martelly.

Some Haitians are queasy over Martelly’s reputed ties to Haiti’s extreme right wing, which he openly praised during the coup that ousted the leftist Aristide in the early 1990s. After former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier returned from exile in January, Martelly said he would make him an adviser. (He later said Duvalier would first have to face justice for alleged crimes committed during his 15-year reign.) Martelly has called for restoring Haiti’s military, which once played a kingmaker role but was disbanded in 1995 after taking part in a series of coups.

Manigat, a Sorbonne-trained scholar who is vice rector of a private university in Port-au-Prince, has never strayed far from Haitian politics. But she too has sought to play the populist, saying Haiti shouldn’t take a back seat to international donors. “She is much more of a traditional conservative in terms of rule of law, very nationalistic, very anti-Duvalier,” said Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group in Washington. Although Manigat lacks Martelly’s star power, she may profit from voter unease with his raffish image, especially in the conservative countryside. Even many younger voters say Manigat has credentials to be president that Martelly lacks.

For full article, see http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-haiti-campaign-20110307,0,5828209.story

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