Haiti's Political Crisis Expected To Come To A Head Next Week

Jan 9, 2015
Originally published on January 9, 2015 9:31 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As we watch the manhunt in France today, we're also tracking a political crisis a bit closer to home. Lawmakers in Haiti face a deadline. They have until midnight Monday to reach agreement on calling elections or else the parliament will be dissolved. That would leave the president ruling by decree, which would be an unfortunate echo of Haiti's past. In Port-au-Prince, NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that Monday's deadline day was already going to be a grim anniversary.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's bad enough that this Monday, January 12, Haiti will once again mourn of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives in the earthquake five years ago. But now, it must also deal with the prospect of unrest and widespread protest if a political agreement can't be reached in time. The two dates just happen to coincide. Tom Adams, the State Department's special coordinator, says that the U.S. is urging Haiti to avoid a crisis. He says it's time for all parties to compromise.

TOM ADAMS: So that this story on the 12 is not that Haiti is in permanent political gridlock, but more that Haiti has made progress.

KAHN: Adams says the U.S.'s position is pretty simple.

ADAMS: We want to see elections happen - agreement on elections - and we also want to avoid rule by decree.

KAHN: Those elections were supposed to have happened nearly three years ago. But instead the opposition and the president have spent that time blaming each other for the delay. That brings us to Monday when the terms of two-thirds of Haiti's senators expires, leaving the body without a functional quorum and only the president left with legal standing. That's a particularly troubling scenario given Haiti's young, struggling democracy and its dictatorial history.

CARL ALEXANDRE: That time has gone and passed.

KAHN: Carl Alexandre is the U.N. secretary general's deputy special representative in Haiti. He says President Michel Martelly has promised if he does rule a loan, he will not take advantage of that power.

ALEXANDRE: The president has said that his focus is on the electoral process. That's what he said, and we hope that he's going to stay to his word.

KAHN: At this point, it's unclear what will break the impasse as the opposition's demand seemed to keep growing. A compromise was reached last month after the prime minister, a close ally of the president, was forced to step down. But opponents say they don't like the replacement pick and now have even begun calling for the president to resign. Hundreds took to the streets yesterday in the capital shouting, down with Martelly. Adeline Pierre, who sells children's clothes in a large downtown market, says she doesn't trust Martelly.

ADELINE PIERRE: (Through interpreter) I want him out because he has been a big liar. He has lied to us so much.

KAHN: President Martelly hasn't made any public comments. He's tweeted pictures of himself and a group of Senate leaders meeting at a luxury hotel high in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Late last night, they emerged but refused to talk to reporters gathered outside. Forty-seven-year-old Belicher Luis, who sells men's jeans downtown, says he hopes there's a compromise before Monday or he fears rioting will begin.

BELICHER LUIS: (Through interpreter) We need the country to be stable. We need the people, the politicians, to put their heads together and make the country stable.

KAHN: He said the worst thing that could happen would be for the president to not finish his term. He says that would be bad for Haiti and bad for his business, which he says gets worse every day the political crisis drags on. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.