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How 'Sweet Micky' Martelly transformed from carnival singer to Haiti president

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Embracing a flamboyant past

Martelly seems an improbable savior. Just a decade ago, he was donning skirts and wigs, cursing, and drinking like a sailor while performing his flamboyant act.

“When he first declared himself a candidate, people didn’t take him seriously because he was the guy who dropped his pants on stage,” says Robert Fatton, a Haitian-American professor at the University of Virginia. “His persona, which should have been a handicap, became a plus. It was really a very clever campaign.”

Instead of turning his back on his flamboyant past, Martelly used pieces of it to motivate the youth vote and to position himself as a political outsider. The bubble gum pink splashed on his campaign posters and vehicles was a nod to his old act, as were the rallies, during which he mixed policy with stagemanship.

The other side of the candidate was presidential. “He managed to, in a way, be all things to all people, which is very hard to do in politics,” Professor Fatton says.

Comeback kid

Martelly was able to reinvent his image thanks, in part, to the people he surrounded himself with, says University of Miami professor and former Haitian journalist Yves Colon.

“He took the advice of a lot of very smart people and that was important,” Professor Colon says.

Martelly hired Madrid-based Ostos & Sola, a consultancy that played an important role in the election of Mexico’s Felipe Calderón. Martelly’s public point man at Ostos & Sola helped run the John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

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