President Michel Martelly has agreed to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe as part of a series of far-reaching measures a presidential commission says is needed to stave off a crippling political crisis in Haiti.
But Martelly did not set a timetable for when Lamothe and the roughly 40 members of his government would quit. Instead, Martelly told the Haitian people during a 20-minute national address Friday that work on the many recommendations, which also seek the resignation of the Supreme Court’s controversial head judge and a new electoral council, will begin Monday.
“The Prime Minister is prepared to make the sacrifice,” Martelly said from the grounds of the collapsed presidential palace where members of the foreign diplomatic corps gathered along with a stone-faced Lamothe and members of his government.
Showing appreciation for Lamothe, who became prime minister in May 2012, Martelly said, “I hope you recognize the work that this young man, this prime minister has done with all of his governmental team.”
In accepting Lamothe’s willingness to step down, Martelly quoted from the commission’s 10-page report in which the former telecom executive and Martelly confidante told commission members that he was prepared to resign should Martelly ask him to do so.
“I congratulate him for his courage and determination to help the country of Haiti,” Martelly said.
For days, Haitians and foreign diplomats have been speculating on what Martelly would do, and if he had the courage to fire his best friend. Some are still not sure, recognizing that nothing happens in Haiti quickly, and despite a push for Lamothe’s immediate resignation, it did not come.
“Martelly’s fate is in his hands,” opposition Senator Moise Jean-Charles said, doubting that Lamothe’s departure was imminent. “Every time he needs to take action he doesn’t do it.”
“As long as Lamothe stays in power, he strengthens the anti-government mobilization,” Jean-Charles said.
On Friday, Jean-Charles and others in the opposition held yet another anti-government protest demanding Martelly’s and Lamothe’s resignations. Protesters had originally announced the demonstrations to welcome U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Haiti after it was rumored that he would visit Friday.
Kerry did not show up. But two of his top envoys, Tom Adams and Thomas Shannon, did visit this week to meet with Martelly and Lamothe and others. The two pushed for dialogue and compromises among the parties that would lead to a Haitian solution to end a crisis that has been plagued by long-overdue legislative and local elections.
“We believe elections are essential for Haiti’s democratic development and to advance progress made in reconstruction and development,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Friday in Washington.
Psaki said that while it’s ultimately up to the Haitians to find a solution to the crisis, the United States welcomes the recommendations offered by the consultative presidential commission, established by Martelly from a diverse group of prominent Haitians.
Some opposition leaders say Martelly’s acceptance of the recommendations will not end demonstrations or calls for him to resign.
“The anti-government mobilization has to proceed in order to obtain either the forced or voluntary resignation of President Martelly, Lamothe and the establishing of a credible CEP and the organization of general elections in 2015,” said opposition leader Andre Michel, a lawyer.
Martelly’s supporters, however, see matters another way and hope that his willingness to do as the commission recommends will pave the way for not just elections but greater harmony.
Martelly advisor and former Sen. Youri Latortue pointed out that it’s not unusual in Haiti for a prime minister to be removed for politics and not their technical skills. Years ago, he single-handedly engineered 16 votes in the Senate to get then-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis fired.
Later, he failed in his attempt to save another prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, from the same fate.
Martelly, Latortue said, has “taken a decision for the country, so that it can advance and we can put our heads together to find a consensus.”
“He needed to make this concession for the country,” he said.
As for Lamothe, Latortue said, his removal has nothing to do with the job he’s done.
“Lamothe is a hard worker. He’s someone who has energy, but his resignation is one of the points that the political parties and opposition have requested in order for them to participate in the electoral process.”
In his address, Martelly recounted the various efforts and accords that took place before the commission’s report in hopes of achieving elections for one-third of the Senate, the entire lower chamber and all locally elected officials. He did not hold back criticism of the Senate, which he says has had an electoral law for 258 days and still refuses to vote it.
“The law is in their hands, collecting dust in a drawer,” he said.
“The resignation of Laurent Lamothe is a major concession to the opposition; the other demands of the commission have to follow rapidly to convince some critical segments of the opposition that Michel Martelly means what he says,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert who teaches political science at the University of Virginia.
“Lamothe’s resignation is a major opening for serious negotiations, but uncertainties persist and the crisis is by no means over, he added. “The next two weeks will be decisive.”