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Interview: Haitian presidential candidate Michel Martelly challenges political elite

With the cholera death toll climbing to more than 1,100 and 1.3 million people still living in displacement camps, presidential candidate Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly is calling for a change in leadership.

By Gary G. YerkeyCorrespondent / November 19, 2010

Haitian popular singer and presidential candidate Michel Martelly, known as 'Sweet Micky,' talks with supporters on Oct. 20, in Port-au-Prince during a rally.

Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

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Pétionville, Haiti

Amid a cholera epidemic that has claimed 1,100 lives and the rubble of an earthquake that killed 300,000 people, Haiti is attempting to hold a national election in less than two weeks.

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It will be a challenging vote as more than a million Haitians still live in temporary tents following January's quake and growing concerns about cholera have turned into violent protest. But presidential candidate Michel Martelly says the only way to move the country beyond these crises is to empower a new generation of political leaders.

In an interview with the Monitor, Mr. Martelly, a flamboyant carnival singer known affectionately as "Sweet Micky," says Haiti problems are exacerbated by what he sees as the decades-long inability of traditional Haitian politicians to address the desperate needs of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

"When I talk about it, I get upset," he says, his voice rising as he leans forward in his chair. "We're begging more and more [from foreign governments] every year. What's the point?"

When Haitians head to the polls Nov. 28, the highly accomplished 49-year-old musician will learn whether he has the chance to lead the country to a better future. He is a dark horse candidate running a campaign as a political outsider able to bring change to an earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation of 9.9 million people.

In a field of 19 candidates, Martelly's main opponents all come from the political establishment. President René Préval's handpicked successor, Jude Célestin, is the former head of the government reconstruction agency. Mirlande H. Manigat is a former parliamentarian and the wife of a past president. Jean-Henry Ceant is a well-known lawyer with close ties to former President Jean Bertrand Aristide's political movement Fanmi Lavalas. Charles-Henry Baker is a wealthy businessman who also ran in the 2006 election.

One of those five candidates will most likely be the next president of Haiti, the respected daily Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste said yesterday. A recent poll from the Economic Forum of the Private Sector showed Ms. Manigat and Mr. Célestin in a near dead heat, with Martelly polling at a distant third. Top winners from the first round election continue on to the Jan. 16 run-off.

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