Thirteen people have applied for a shot at becoming Haiti’s next president. Well, sort of.
The temporary job is supposed to last no more than 120 days, and the main mission is to oversee the selection of a consensus prime minister to lead the country to the election of its next president and remaining 31 parliamentarians.
At least nine of the applicants had paid the $8,414 filing fee by Friday’s deadline. The money will go to a State University of Haiti account, said Cholzer Chancy, the president of the Lower Chamber of Deputies. He and Senate President Jocelerme Privert, who is among the applicants, have called a session of parliament for 11 a.m. Saturday to choose the provisional president. The winner is supposed to be sworn-in Sunday, a week after former President Michel Martelly departed office without an elected successor because of disputed elections.
“I don’t see how they are going to install a president,” said Daly Valet, a political analyst and former campaign manager for presidential candidate Moise Jean-Charles, who is contesting his third-place finish in the Oct. 25 first round presidential vote.
The planned vote and swearing-in are part of a controversial accord that Chancy and Privert signed as leaders of the parliament with Martelly, who spent four years in office without holding elections and was unable to pull off the vote for his successor before his Feb. 7 departure. Critics say while the accord helped avoid a violent crisis after Martelly’s departure and allowed him to exit power gracefully — he turned over the presidential sash to the head of the National Assembly in a low-key ceremony — it’s unworkable and invites turmoil at every step.
All week, various opposition leaders have taken to the radio to denounce the agreement, calling it a coup d’etat by parliament. Others have taken to the street against the accord, while on Friday Privert’s supporters demonstrated on his behalf.
Supporters argue that the last-minute deal outlining the steps for a provisional government was the best formula they could come up with considering that after refusing several other accords, Martelly was set on naming as his temporary successor the current president of the Supreme Court, Jules Cantave, whose 10-year term expired in December. Martelly and his supporters seem to have backed down from pushing Cantave, who isn’t among the applicants, and are now backing former Senate President Edgard Leblanc of the Struggling People’s Organization or OPL.
Late Friday, a bicameral commission in parliament reduced the list of applicants to three: former Sen. Dejean Belizaire, former head of the National Assembly and Senate President Edgard Fils Leblanc and Privert.
Political observers say the fight is really between Privert, a former interior minister and member of the Verite platform who has come under heavy criticism for his candidacy, and Leblanc. Both men are from the tiny Nippes region. The winner needs 47 votes in the lower chamber and 13 in the Senate to win.
OPL Coordinator Sauveur Pierre Etienne said the political party doesn’t support Leblanc entering this fight and it is equally opposed to Privert’s candidacy. “It’s indecent. He signed the accord and now he’s seeking to benefit from it,” Etienne said. “A lot of principles have been violated by this accord, starting with a separation of powers.”
Suspicions clouding the elections of several lawmakers have undermined parliament’s role in the process and questioned the lawmakers’ legitimacy to choose Haiti’s next head of state. The country has been tangled in an electoral crisis since its fraud- and violence-marred Aug. 9 legislative elections. And while the Oct. 25 vote was commended by some international observers, local watchdog groups and opposition candidates have insisted that it, too, was marred by widespread fraud in favor of Martelly’s hand-picked successor, Jovenel Moïse. The allegations triggered calls for a deeper verification of the vote, violent street protests and a boycott by opposition candidate Jude Célestin, who refused to participate in the runoff against Moïse.
Under the agreement, the runoff elections are to take place by April 24, with a new president sworn-in on May. 14. On Friday, the Organization of American States, which recently visited Haiti at the request of Martelly to observe the negotiations, once more lauded the accord.
“We are far from a solution that can solve the crisis we are in right now,” Valet said. “ This thing lacks a comprehensive consensus, and we don’t have that kind of agreement.”
As for the opposition’s division over the accord and Saturday’s vote, Valet said, he isn’t surprised.
“They can get together only to disagree with a president and a government,” he said. “But once they are done with the job of kicking out a president, they go back to their old job of being divided.”