Haiti on Friday installed a new nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to organize polls for the country’s long overdue legislative and municipal elections.
The swearing-in of the men and women, representing nine different sectors of society took place at the Supreme Court and just hours before representatives of the 15-member United Nations Security Council were expected to arrive for a three-day mission. They later traveled to the CEP’s headquarters in Petionville, where foreign diplomats joined recently installed Prime Minister Evans Paul in welcoming the panel.
“It’s not the international community who has to tell us to do elections,” Paul said. “We have to do it. Elections are indispensable for the stability of Haiti.”
As Paul spoke, across town anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in the second day of consecutive protests demanding the resignation of President Michel Martelly, whom they accuse of trying to be a dictator and dragging his feet on elections.
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As has been the pattern with Martelly, every time he has a meeting with the U.N., whether it be an address at the General Assembly or another big gathering with the international community, he made a move to show progress. But this move, to quickly install the CEP, wasn’t without controversy.
On Thursday, the government was forced to abruptly cancel its swearing-in plans after issues were raised about the lack of consensus and debate over the choosing of some members over others to sit on the independent elections council. The Presidential Palace had asked each of the nine sectors to submit two independent names as possible representatives for their one slot. But during discussions over who should represent women’s organizations, for instance, one leading women’s group pulled out of the process, saying it didn’t recognize designee Yolette Mengual.
Mengual was the only member of the newly installed electoral board who addressed the pack room that gathered for the installation ceremony.
This is the fifth CEP under Martelly, who in the nearly four years since his election as president, has been unable to schedule elections for more than 4,000 municipal posts, or a tier of the Senate. As a result of the delays, Haiti today has no parliament, after the terms of a second-tier of the Senate also expired and the entire 99-member Chamber of Deputies last week. This is also a presidential year in which elections to select Martelly’s successor are due. Under Haiti’s constitution, he cannot seek consecutive terms.
In recent days and weeks, Martelly has sought to break a political impasse by taking responsibility for the crisis that has plunged Haiti deeper into turmoil, and promising to stage free, fair and credible elections. But even the promises, coupled with his naming of a moderate opposition leader as prime minister and forming a government with some opposition members, hasn’t tempered calls for his resignation.
On Thursday, opposition groups held another demonstration demanding his resignation and promised to take to the streets again Friday “to welcome” the U.N. Security Council to Haiti.
“He has destroyed all of the institutions inside the country,” Assad Volcy, a leader with opposition group Pitit Dessalines Platform, said about Martelly.
Volcy said the opposition wasn’t just determined to rid Haiti of Martelly, but also of the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission known by its French acronym MINUSTAH.
Paul told the Miami Herald in an interview earlier Friday that that he hopes the Security Council sees that despite the crisis, the country remains relatively peaceful.
“We will do all possible for elections to happen in the country this year,” Paul said about the main message he plans to transmit to council members when he and Martelly meet with them.
Paul said he and the president also plans to “talk with them about not disengaging this year so as not to further weaken the fragile security situation.”
“We also want them to influence donors to respect the promises they gave Haiti and to engage with Haiti to support the country’s budget,” he said.
During the Security Council’s visit, members will tour a Port-au-Prince housing project for formerly homeless victims of the country’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake and visit Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city. The U.N. visit is being co-led by the Permanent Representatives of the Missions of Chile and the United States.
It comes as Haiti continues to wrestle with a political crisis that has left the country not only without a working parliament, which dissolved last week, but no head of the Supreme Court and a president ruling by decree. On Monday, the country installed a new government just days after former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul was sworn-in as prime minister, replacing Laurent Lamothe who was forced to step down in December.
The Security Council is expected to affirm its support to Haiti’s government as it urges warring politicians to come together to ensure elections take place that are free, fair, inclusive, and transparent. Council members also will assess ongoing strengthening of the Haitian National Police, which graduated a new class of recruits on Thursday, and Haiti’s ability to take over its own affairs.
The Security Council will also express its strong support for MINUSTAH and Sandra Honoré, the special representative of the Secretary General, a communique said.
During their time in Haiti, the members of the Security Council will meet with Martelly and other Haitian government officials, as well as representatives from the agencies, funds and programs of the United Nations working in Haiti and representatives from troops and police contributor countries.