Interim president’s mandate expires in drifting Haiti


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti entered into another leaderless drift Wednesday as the provisional president’s 120-day mandate came to a close amid backroom negotiations, posturing and delays by the deeply polarized country’s political class.

Lawmakers were expected to decide whether to extend caretaker President Jocelerme Privert’s term until new elections can be held or pave the way for new interim leader. But a National Assembly session failed to take place Tuesday, when Privert’s tenure expired under the deadline of a February accord that helped put him in power.

Cholzer Chancy, the acting leader of the National Assembly, on Wednesday demanded that senators and deputies return to Parliament to vote. But a session failed to materialize for a second straight day.

“We are 92 deputies and 22 senators. Why can’t we come in and decide how we will continue to govern the country?” Chancy told a local radio station.

The United Nations, the U.S. government and representatives of other nations making up the “Core Group” that monitor Haiti voiced concern on Wednesday that “no measures have been taken to ensure institutional continuity.” They urged lawmakers to quickly reach a solution.

Whether Privert is still Haiti’s caretaker president depends on who you talk to.

Senate leader Ronald Lareche and 10 other senators issued a statement saying they will recognize Privert’s legitimacy until the Parliament decides his fate.

And in a Wednesday evening national address, Privert insisted he would stay in office until the divided Parliament finally voted. In February, a majority of members elected him interim leader amid suspended elections and another institutional vacuum in the presidency.

“My government is still working. I am available to go to Parliament as soon as they are ready to make a decision,” Privert said in the televised address, surrounded by his ministers.

But lower house lawmaker Gary Bodeau and others insist that Privert’s term was unquestionably finished. He argued that Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles automatically became Haiti’s top official at midnight Tuesday.

“It would be illegal and unconstitutional for Privert to remain in the National Palace,” Bodeau said.

Haitian historian Georges Michel said he believed that only force would remove Privert from power before this electoral cycle can be resolved — and he didn’t see that as a very likely possibility.

“It’s impossible to say what will happen, but the country is very quiet and very calm for now. So in coming days I think we will see a sort of status quo,” he said.

The Tet Kale political party of former President Michel Martelly announced a “popular mobilization” to force the ouster of Privert on Tuesday. But it failed to get many participants and a protest was hastily rescheduled for Thursday.

Meanwhile, over 1,000 protesters aligned with the Fanmi Lavalas faction marched Tuesday through poor neighborhoods of Haiti’s capital chanting: “We want Privert to stay!”

But many Haitians are deeply skeptical about the country’s politics due to years of broken promises.

“If they wanted to, our politicians could find a solution to this latest mess. But they only care about themselves,” said Mickelange Fontilus, who sells women’s underwear at a street stall near the National Palace.

At the Organization of American States general assembly in the neighboring Dominican Republic, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described Haiti as an “area of concern,” saying its citizens deserved “the chance to express their will and elect a president without further delay.”

Haitian electoral officials recently announced that a new presidential election will be held in October with safeguards to avoid the fraud that marred last year’s voting.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd