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A flamboyant performer, 'Sweet Mickey' is now Haiti's favorite son

By Moni Basu, CNN
Michel Martelly alleges the first round of presidential election -- in which he officially finished third -- was tainted by fraud.
Michel Martelly alleges the first round of presidential election -- in which he officially finished third -- was tainted by fraud.
  • Michel Martelly has emerged as Haiti's favorite son in the election aftermath
  • His is also "Sweet Mickey," famed for performing Haitian carnival music
  • Martelly finished third in the main vote count, which has been challenged
  • If that vote count holds, he won't be in a January 16 runoff

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Michel Martelly is not used to being confined to his home.

After all, he made a name for himself on stage, performing Haitian carnival music in flamboyant style, sometimes drinking rum straight from a bottle and ripping his clothes off.

But "Sweet Mickey," as he is known in his role as king of kompa music, says it wasn't Sweet Mickey who went home to his wife and four children at night. That was Michel Martelly, husband and father, who has emerged as Haiti's favorite son.

He shed his bad-boy image off stage to take care of his family, educate his children. Now, he says, he wants to do the same for his homeland.

"My life on stage was very different than it was at home," says Martelly, sitting on a large veranda at his plush home in the hills of Port-au-Prince.

The Provisional Electoral Council placed Martelly in third place with 21.84% of the votes in preliminary results of Haiti's presidential election announced last Tuesday. That means, if the vote holds, Martelly will not be in a January 16 runoff.

The council said Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady and law professor, came out on top with 31.37 percent of the votes and Jude Celestin, the government-backed candidate, won 22.48 percent.

But charges of fraud in the Haitian election have hailed from all corners. The most vocal, perhaps, has been Martelly, who is confident he won based on what pre-election polling had shown.

His supporters took to the streets in the days after the results were announced, chanting "Tet Kale!," another one of his monikers, which means bald head in Creole.

On this Sunday afternoon, Martelly appears in jeans and a button-down shirt. A silver arm cuff hugs his right wrist. He takes a long sip of his favorite ice-cream soda and takes a seat at a table surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling fake Christmas tree, a piano and eight wall-mounted speakers. It's not hard to tell this is a musician's home.

Close by, armed with shotguns, are menacing bodyguards from a private security firm.

"I never had security before this election," he says.

The opposite, in fact.

When Sweet Mickey stepped out of his car, adoring crowds thronged to get a closer look at the popular star.

But with violent protests erupting on the streets and convinced that there are many who would like to see him dead, Martelly says he has been forced to hide behind security.

This reporter was led by a bodyguard through a maze of doors and rooms to a sprawling veranda where the interview took place. The smell of sauteing onions and garlic wafted out of the kitchen.

Martelly says he doesn't leave his home anymore. Rarely does he talk on the phone for fear his words will be used against him.

Haiti, he says, is on the brink of revolution.

"This is a very dangerous corner in Haiti's history," he says. "But it's a revolution that can be done peacefully through the election."

Under the father-and-son Duvalier dictatorship, Haitians lacked freedom but the people had clean roads, electricity, jobs, security, Martelly says. When democracy came overnight to this Caribbean nation, people didn't know how to handle it.

Martelly talks about 24 years of troubled times, of an impoverished country that he says hurtled backwards into even more poverty.

"We are ruled by corruption," he says. "The people have no confidence in their government."

Then came a killer earthquake, a hurricane, a cholera epidemic and now political turmoil.

"You know how (U.S. President Barack) Obama said it's not about the man, but it's about the plan?" he says. "Here it's more about the man than about the plan."

Haiti will go nowhere, he says, unless the people have a president they can trust, a president who is honest.

"I've been on the ground with them for 22 years," he says of his musical career. "The people know me. I represent the light at the end of the tunnel."

Not that Martelly doesn't have plans.

He says, for instance, that the $12 billion that was pledged by the international community for earthquake assistance should come in the form of infrastructure, not money, because the Haitians don't know how to manage money.

But his immediate plans revolve around how to resolve the electoral dispute. The electoral council is recounting the votes, but Martelly says he will not deal with the council.

"From day one, we predicted fraud. But no one seemed to care," he says. "Now the same (council), the same entities want us to go in for a recount. What assurance do we have that this will be a free and fair process?

"We do not trust that process," he says. "We do not believe in going back to the same judge who has already condemned us. I believe everything has been done to ensure that we lose again when we never lost from day one."

Manigat has also said she will not accept a recount.

A European Union backed monitoring group had said Martelly was leading in the vote count. The United States and the United Nations both expressed grave concern over electoral fraud.

Martelly says he has a team of legal experts looking into his options, which he plans to make public soon.

One option that is unlikely, he says, is a new election. Haiti has neither the resources nor the strength to start all over again.

Another is a three-way runoff between Martelly and the two top vote-getters, Manigat and Celestin.

"If I accept that, I'd be starting my political career in a fraudulent system," Martelly says.

He says he is bowing in front of the international community to help bring about a fair outcome.

"This is an SOS," he says.

Then he takes a long sip of his sweet drink. Outside his well-guarded home, the streets are tense.

People have burned down the campaign headquarters of Celestin, a protege of the President Rene Preval, who grew increasingly unpopular, as little progress surfaced in the months after the January 12 earthquake.

They have taken to the streets to demand their political will be respected.

So what makes a man who made a name with dance music think he can change things in Haiti?

Martelly flashes his signature smile; the light glints off his tet kale.

"Well," he says. "Look at what the politicians have done."