For all the anti-government protests and demands that he resign from office, Haitian President Michel Martelly remains popular, according to a new public opinion survey.
Martelly, who will begin the final year of his five-year term in May, got a 57 percent job approval rating. But it’s an open question whether his popularity will give his choice of presidential candidate the win. Martelly is barred from running again, and Haitians are waiting to see which candidate gets his support.
More than half of Haitians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while nearly 70 percent do not believe things are going well today.
Martelly “has support,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a Florida International University international relations professor who conducted the survey. “You see it in his approval rating and in the coattail question, but that is where it ends. Even with the 57 percent who say they support Martelly, it isn’t enough because of everything else that is in the poll.”
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The majority of those polled, 80 percent, said they were unemployed and list the high cost of living, unemployment and hunger as the main problems facing the country.
Polling began on March 13 and ended last week. Gamarra said the 1,003 respondents were randomly chosen from a telephone database. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Gamarra won’t say who financed the poll other than “members of the private sector.” They wanted to get a sense of how the public feels as Haiti prepares to finally hold long overdue local and legislative balloting and constitutionally due presidential elections, he said.
The legislative elections are set for Aug. 9. Legislative runoffs and local elections will be Oct. 25 along with balloting for presidential elections. If no one wins the presidency outright, a runoff will take place Dec. 27.
While he has done consulting for former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who was ousted in December amidst a political crisis, Gamarra said the poll is not the work of the government. But the results, he said, are fairly consistent with what he has seen in four other national polls he’s conducted in Haiti.
Like those surveys, the current poll is filled with contradictions. Education is not among the top two priority for respondents, for example, but their approval of Martelly rests on his free education initiative.
One group that did not poll well was the opposition, which staged 803 protests last year around the country demanding Martelly’s resignation, accusing his administration of government waste and corruption and stalling elections. Those issues ranked at the bottom of the poll.
Andre Michel, an opposition leader and lawyer, declined to comment on the poll. Jean-Junior Joseph, a political blogger and former spokesman for interim Haiti Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, said he doesn’t believe the poll. Like others in Haiti, he questions who is really behind it.
“The economy is crippling, the corruption is at the top and the government is near bankruptcy,” he said. “Now a poll is playing with our minds that things are excellent.”
In recent weeks, the opposition has put on hold its protests and instead joined others in preparing to participate in elections. Several opposition parties, for example, have announced their own primary election to decide who among them should be the presidential candidate. Even former President René Préval is back in play, creating a new political platform called Verité to field candidates. It is among the 166 political parties and platforms the Provisional Electoral Council said Tuesday qualified for the elections.
But even as parties qualify and registration for legislative races prepare to open Monday, there is an air of pessimism among Haitians about the vote. According to the poll, 61 percent of Haitians said they do not believe that elections will take place.
The poll also shows that the elections are so much up for grabs that “anybody can win,” Gamarra said.
For example, when asked who they would support, 21 percent said they would vote for Lamothe. Martelly’s wife, Sophia, received 14 percent. But 31 percent either didn’t know or had no response.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they didn’t know who would be the most important candidate if the presidential elections were to take place today.
“In Haiti, somebody can come in at the very last minute and become as significant as Michel,” Gamarra said. “The poll reflects the absolute moment of uncertainty that Haiti is living.”