President Michel Martelly's landslide election marked a profound
change in Haitian political history: the first alliance of the
general populace with the elite. The big question now is whether he
can sustain this unlikely marriage.
The election of popular singer Michel Martelly follows the
Haitian electorate's pattern of selecting leaders who come from
outside the political system. Their overwhelming mistrust of such
politicians has produced winners like Francois Duvalier (1957), Jean-
Bertrand Aristide (1990, 2000), and today, Mr. Martelly.
But Martelly's landslide election in April also marks one of the
most profound changes in Haitian political history: the first
alliance of the general populace with the elite. A son of the
Haitian elite, Martelly was embraced by both the masses and the
upper class. The big question: Will he sustain this unlikely
Martelly is now uniquely poised to use his political capital to
engage the political elite, unite the entire population, and move
all Haitians toward democratic progress and prosperity.
A history of class struggle and abuse
Throughout Haiti's 200-year history, the politics of Haiti has
always been dominated by a battle between its classes and colors.
From the days of Haitian leaders Dessalines, Christophe, and Petion
in the early 19th century to today's Martelly, Haitian politics has
revolved around the struggle between, on the one hand, an elite
"light skinned" minority and the small middle class, and, on the
other, the vastly more numerous "dark-skinned" lower classes.
In 1957, Duvalier, also known as "the people's doctor," rose to
power because of his popularity among Haiti's underprivileged. At
the time of his election, he was known for working with the poorest
of the poor, treating tropical skin infections for the neediest.
Once he was elected president, his stance underwent a dramatic
change. He and later, his son, Jean Claude "Baby Doc," maintained
power for 29 years. Haitians need no reminder of the story of their
dictatorship and the brutality of their regime.
Similarly, Aristide's rise to power was characterized by his
identity as the priest of the poor. Symbolizing the anti-Duvalier
movement in the 1980s, Aristide was cherished by the masses as
Haiti's messiah. The end of Aristide's destructive presidency seems
to have made a mark in the minds of the majority of Haitians. After
first being deposed by the Haitian Army and then again by the
intervention of the United States and France, most Haitians agree
that his legacy is one of aggravated social division, corruption,
and institutional ruin.
Breaking with tradition
Martelly's election represents a major shift away from this
pattern in Haitian politics. True, Martelly was elected through
broad popular support from the masses. But the upper classes have
also embraced this musician, despite his politcal inexperience and
his reputation as a "bad boy." With the backing of 67 percent of
voters, Martelly has won the support of both sets of Haitians. Now
he must set out to solidify this union between the light-skinned
minority and the darker-skinned majority.
Thanks to his 23 years of popular music fame, Martelly has become
close to the Haitian masses. And to date, he has embraced popular
aspirations for progress and development. For most of his music
career, he has stood against the Haitian elite and its ruling