President Michel Martelly said Friday he doesn’t relish ruling by decree and would like to have legislative elections as early as the end of May to fill the institutional void created after parliament dissolved last week.
“I want to reinforce the institutions,” Martelly said at the National Palace after welcoming a 15-member delegation from the United Nations Security Council, which is on a three-day mission. “I don’t want to hold the power just for myself.”
Council members planned to examine how the country is doing five years after a devastating 7.0 earthquake toppled homes and government buildings, left more than 300,000 dead and an equal number injured, and forced 1.5 million Haitians into camps.
As part of the evaluation, they are also looking at security, development and the ongoing political impasse between Martelly and the opposition that has plunged Haiti deeper into political turmoil.
The country now has no elected mayors, no head of the Supreme Court and no Chamber of Deputies or working Senate. Last week, on the fifth anniversary of the quake, lack of elections overdue by more than three years caused the terms of the entire lower house to expire as well as a second-tier of the 30-member Senate.
Despite the crisis, Chilean U.N. Ambassador Christian Barros Melet and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who led the delegation, said they were encouraged. The pair commended Martelly for his efforts in trying to break the impasse by reaching out to the opposition and promising to continue the dialogue to bring opponents demanding his resignation off the streets and to the negotiating table.
“We are very encouraged by the effort at consultations with the opposition, with civil society that the president has made and out of this meeting, even more encouraged by his determination to continue those consultations even after the lapsing of the parliament,” Power said.
“The democratic contract between the government and the governed is a critical part of Haiti’s development and we on the U.N. Security Council want to offer Haiti all of the support we can,” she said.
Power said members were further encouraged by Friday’s installation of a new nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to organize the balloting. It is the fifth since Martelly’s 2011 election, and was sworn-in just hours before the delegation touched down.
During the installation ceremony at the council’s headquarters in Petionville, recently installed Prime Minister Evans Paul said, the international community does not have to direct Haitians to hold elections.
“We have to do it,” he said. “Elections are indispensable for the stability of Haiti.”
As Paul spoke, across town thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in the second day of consecutive protests demanding Martelly’s resignation and accusing him of foot-dragging on elections and of trying to be a dictator.
“Since Martelly came to power, everyone can see how he’s violated the Constitution,” said protester Ronald Fareau, 46, carrying a mini Haitian flag in his hands as he walked down a capital street. “He’s had nine carnivals but not done one election, and instead of defending us, the people, the international community is defending its own self-interests.”
Protesters not only asked for Martelly’s departure but also that of the U.N.’s nearly 7,000 peacekeeping force, known as MINUSTAH. The force is marking its 11th year in Haiti, where it is accused of introducing a deadly cholera outbreak that has killed more than 8,700 and sickened more than 720,000.
Earlier this month, Judge J. Paul Oetken of U.S. District Court in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit filed by human rights lawyers seeking compensation for thousands of cholera victims. The judge ruled that the U.N. has legal immunity.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they plan to appeal, and this week joined human rights groups here and in the United States in urging the Security Council delegation to address the cholera crisis. The U.N. has refused to take responsibility for allegedly introducing the disease in Haiti through one of its battalions 10 months after the earthquake, but last year on the eve of a visit to Haiti, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Miami Herald that the global body has “a moral responsibility” to help Haiti.
Martelly reminded Security Council members of that responsibility, asking them to help support Haiti’s national plan for cholera eradication.
Martelly said Haitians have the right to protest and while conditions “can’t always be beautiful,” he remains committed to reaching out to the opposition to help develop Haiti.
He also said he was determined to hold free, fair, credible and transparent elections, something council members welcomed.
“Having one election keeps the parliament out for too long,” he said. “So I hope that in a first phase we can have one election for the legislative branch.”
For its part, the Haitian government hopes that council members, which include representatives of all 15 nations including nine ambassadors, see that Haiti remains peaceful despite the ongoing political turmoil and demonstrations.
Paul, in a Miami Herald interview Friday, said he and Martelly plan to reiterate that “we will do all possible for elections to happen in the country this year.”
At the top of the delegation’s agenda is also the future of the military mission, which has been drawing down.
“We plan to talk with them about not disengaging this year so as not to further weaken the fragile security situation,” Paul said. “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.”
On Saturday, council members will begin the day with a visit to a housing development where formerly homeless earthquake residents reside. About 80,000 earthquake victims remain in tent cities.
Soon after, they will fly to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city. They also plan to meet with opposition leaders and members of civil society.