Haiti President Michel Martelly says a last-minute agreement on how a caretaker government will be installed in Haiti after he leaves office Sunday is intended to help the country get out of its ongoing political impasse.
“But the problems are still here, the problems are real, the problems are serious,” said Martelly, who gathered the press, foreign diplomatic corps and members of his government and parliament to the presidential palace to witness the official signing of the accord.
Martelly and leaders of both chambers of parliament reached the deal hours before his term ends with no elected successor to pass the presidential sash to. Martelly, recognizing the support of the international community, noted that this was a “solution out of the crisis” that was decided upon by Haitians after three weeks of negotiations. Those negotiations, often stalled and frustrating, finally concluded in the early hours of Saturday morning with a deal. Prime Minister Evans Paul was notably absent from the signing ceremony.
Under the plan, Paul will run the country until a provisional president is chosen in a vote by both chambers of parliament by Thursday. That interim president will then oversee the selection of a consensus prime minister whose primary job will be to organize the postponed legislative and presidential runoff vote within 120 days.
The plan is for the second round to take place on April 24. The new president is to be installed on May 14.
“The constitution didn’t project this situation, so as legislators we have the responsibility to stay as close to the constitution as possible, which is the appointment of a new president by the National Assembly,” said Jerry Tardieu, minority leader in the Chamber of Deputies. “But the crisis is not over yet. For the choice of the prime minister, we need to put everybody at the biggest round table — the opposition forces, including those who have been on the streets, the private sector, civil society. All have to be consulted so that we can get to as close to a consensus as possible.”
Senate President Jocelerme Privert congratulated Martelly for his role in the negotiations and said the accord is “crucial for the future of our nation.”
As part of the agreement, lawmakers agreed to let Martelly give his final address to the nation at 11 a.m. Sunday during a session of the National Assembly.
The agreement, which provides a framework for filling the institutional vacuum because of the postponed elections, came after dueling protests Friday, one of which turned deadly. Throughout the day, dozens of armed men dressed in green army uniforms roamed the capital, Port-au-Prince, on motorcycles and in trucks.
Some eventually clashed with anti-government protesters. One protester dropped a large cinder block on the head of one of the men and beat him to death in front of journalists. The man was identified as Neroce R. Ciceron, 78, a former captain in Haiti’s disbanded army. Haiti’s Defense Ministry, however, said they have no record of the man in army books.
Pro-government supporters also rallied in the capital, where grocery stores were packed with worried shoppers. The capital’s airport also was filled with equally concerned travelers, opting to take advantage of the Carnival holiday — it starts Sunday — to leave and take a break from the political uncertainty.
On Saturday afternoon, tensions continued. A small crowd of protesters demanded that Martelly leave, and shooting was reported north of Port-au-Prince along Route National 1 near the town of Arcahaie. A car was burned, and at least one person reported being carjacked. A police station in Saint Medard was also attacked by armed individuals. No casualties were reported, however, police assigned to the station fled.
The accord settles a major disagreement between the executive and the parliament. Martelly, according to Sen. François Anick Joseph, had planned to install Supreme Court President Jules Cantave as his successor.
Joseph and other lawmakers opposed this move, noting that the selection of an interim president is the responsibility of parliament. They also noted that Cantave’s appointment to the court had expired, raising questions of legitimacy. Cantave was appointed president of the court in March 2015, but his term expired on Dec. 19, 2015. He was appointed to the court in 2005.
Martelly could still put Cantave’s name before the parliament for a vote. The other leading candidate is Privert, a former minister of interior who was jailed by the country’s last transitional government.
On the popular political talk show Ranmase on Radio Television Caribes Saturday, political analysts took issue with the accord. Some objected to Martelly’s involvement, accusing him of creating the crisis because he had failed to hold elections for four years. Others said the accord would not quell the increasingly violent street protests or help promote the confidence that is needed for Haiti to finish its electoral process.
Both the Aug. 9 legislative first round and Oct. 25 presidential vote have been dogged by allegations of fraud in favor of Martelly’s candidates, including presidential pick, Jovenel Moïse. The allegations sparked a political upheaval and violent street protests with opposition presidential candidate Jude Célestin announcing he would not participate in the scheduled Jan. 24 runoff. The unrest led to postponement of that vote.
“This accord presents a huge headache for the country going forward,” said Stanley Lucas, a Martelly supporter, who advocates choosing the head of the court as has been done in the past.
Charles Henri Baker, who was among the 54 candidates who ran for president in October, said “the consensus on the streets is in order to not have a presidential void, go with a judge from the Supreme Court.”
“Are we trying to resolve the problem or create more problems?” he said.
Baker called for a vote by vote verification of polling stations to address the “massive fraud” allegations. The accord calls for the recommendations of an electoral evaluation commission to be applied. Among the recommendations is a deeper verification of the 1.5 million ballots cast in the presidential race.
The international community had been losing patience with Haiti as it struggled to reach an agreement. While the head of an Organization of American States special mission, Ambassador Ronald Sanders, was hopeful that an agreement would be reached, others grew concerned. Among them, Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten, who quietly slipped into Port-au-Prince this week to see how negotiations were progressing.
Sanders, a diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda, welcomed the accord and encouraged all “to implement the formula going forward.” Martelly had asked the OAS to deploy the special mission to observe the process.
The mission congratulated Martelly for maintaining his position to leave office by Feb. 7 and “for his willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with stakeholders prior to his departure, to ensure that the State continues to function peacefully and in the social and economic interest of the country.”
“The situation in Haiti is exceptional and it required exceptional solutions,” Sanders said. “We are pleased that the stakeholders have all committed themselves to democracy, peace and stability, amid a constitutional vacuum created by the absence of an elected President to replace Mr. Martelly.”
This is the second time in 12 years that Haiti will be run by a provisional government. The constitutional and political crisis comes on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the father-son Duvalier dictatorship: Feb. 7, 1986.