Haiti – The political situation in flux

Joseph Michel Martelly finished his term as president on February 7 2016. As expected, he handed the presidential sash to the president of the National Assembly, Jocelerme Privert. 7 days later, the same Privert was sworn in as interim president for 120 days, to conclude the electoral process that Martelly has been unable to close. This post analyses the political events that have taken place since the departure of Martelly and the implications for the electoral process and political stability in Haiti in the near future.

The consequences of the end of the Martelly era

The failure to hand the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, meant that the worst nightmare of Michel Martelly became true. The election of Privert by the legislators put a hold on the political ambitions of the heirs of Martelly. In practice, since February 14 the opposition forces that contested Martelly in the streets have held the political initiative. Privert has been maneuvering to sidestep the caretaker government left in place by the president.

Two days before leaving office, Martelly signed an agreement with the leaders of the assembly and the senate that would serve as a blueprint for the transition until new elections. The accord stipulates that the parliament would elect an interim president, who would establish a new electoral council, evaluate the results of the first round of the elections, and organise the remaining electoral contests on April 24. The inauguration of a newly elected president is scheduled to take place on May 14.

More than 30 days after the election of the interim president, the political process has been stalled. Privert has not been able to form a new government. He has also been unable to convince the legislators allied with the party of Martelly to vote for the chosen prime minister, Fritz Jean. The leaders of these legislators have voiced concerns about the fact that the nomination of Fritz Jean means giving absolute control to the former opposition to Martelly. In this sense, more than one month after the departure of Martelly, the political situation is still not clear in Haiti.

What should we expect from now?

The departure of Martelly on February 7 has left a clear political winner: the opposition parties that took to the streets to contest his political decisions and the elections. Since then, many of the members of these parties have official entry to the palace and the president. Street protests have mostly been silent. All actors are trying to manoeuvre the situation so as not to lose ground and have enough leverage to influence the political process when the elections are held. In this sense the actual political situation in Haiti is tense but calm with actors expecting a clash over the political process.

The forces that derailed Martelly’s plan to hand over the presidency to Jovenel Moise have so far had the upper hand. An interim president was sworn in, a new electoral council (CEP), mostly containing former critics of the previous CEP, will take over the electoral process; a commission for evaluating the electoral process will be formed. We can be almost certain that the candidate of the PHTK, the party of the former president, will find it very difficult to win the upcoming elections.

But in this context many important questions remain unanswered. First it is not clear how the groups allied with Martelly will react when it becomes clear that they will lose power to influence the course of the political events in Haiti. Are they going to use the streets as their opponents did during the government of Martelly? Are they going to use the paramilitary forces that threatened to defend Martelly in his final days in office? Will each legislator try to save his own situation indivually? History shows that the structural weakness of political parties plays against any group strategy in Haiti. Influential politicians agree to particular deals to advance their own situation to the detriment of other members of their groups.

The second series of questions concerns the behaviour of the members of the opposition? Are they going to maintain their alliance in order to confront the challenges posed by the Martelly camp? So far the parties that formed the former opposition have been unified in the face of the challenges they had to overcome in order to win the battle against Martelly. Here too history has shown that unity is not a path always favoured by Haitian politicians.

Finally, as we enter the second month of the presidency of Jocelerme Privert still awaiting the formation of the new electoral council, it is almost certain that 120 days will not suffice to organize the elections. In this sense, it is probable that the parliament will need to prolong the mandate of the interim president and its government. What kind of guarantee  will Privet give in order to secure the continuity of the presidency?

It will be necesarry to watch very closely the behaviour of the actors in the coming days to have clear answers to these interrogations. But what is clear is that the short-term political future of Haiti hinges upon their response. The way they interpret their interest will dictate the degree of political instability that lies ahead.

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