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World

Interim President's Mandate Expires in Drifting Haiti

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

A supporter of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse marches with a Haitian national flag during a demonstration in support of interim President Jocelerme Privert in Port-au-Prince, photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery
1 year ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — 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.

Supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse chant slogans against legislators in front of a police barricade at the entrance to the parliament building during a demonstration in support of interim President Jocelerme Privert, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery

Supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse chant slogans against legislators in front of a police barricade at the entrance to the parliament building during a demonstration in support of interim President Jocelerme Privert, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery

Cholzer Chancy, the acting leader of the National Assembly, on Wednesday demanded that senators and deputies return to Parliament to vote. But it wasn’t immediately clear if a quorum could be reached or when a session might take place.

“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 recognize Privert’s legitimacy until the Parliament decides his fate. And Emmanuel Jean Francois, communications chief for the prime minister’s office, insisted there was no institutional vacuum and that matters would be resolved once lawmakers convene in the National Assembly.

“President Privert is still Haiti’s leader. It’s just that the Parliament was not yet able to gather to make a final decision on whether to extend his term,” Francois said during a phone interview.

Privert has repeatedly said that his future will be decided by the divided Parliament, whose members elected him as interim leader amid suspended elections.

But lower house lawmaker Gary Bodeau and others insist that Privert’s term was unquestionably finished. He argues 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 elections take place — 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.

Police keep supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse from stopping a car from crossing the entrance into the parliament building during a demonstration in support of interim President Jocelerme Privert, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery

Police keep supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse from stopping a car from crossing the entrance into the parliament building during a demonstration in support of interim President Jocelerme Privert, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery

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 on Tuesday 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.

DAVID McFADDEN

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