Haitian Lawmakers Reach 11th Hour Deal as President Steps Down

Charged Affairs‘ own Kirby Neuner discusses a recent development in Haiti’s ongoing political crisis, as Haitian lawmakers find a path forward after weeks of unrest. 

With the expiration date on President Michel Martelly’s term looming, Haitian lawmakers supported by an Organization of American States (OAS) delegation reached a last-minute consensus Saturday night on an interim transitional government, avoiding an imminent institutional crisis. After a run-off election to choose Martelly’s successor was postponed indefinitely amidst violent protests and allegations of a corrupt electoral commission, the embattled executive had originally indicated that he would consider staying in office should a deal not be reached in time. Late last week, however, Martelly—who assumed the presidency just a year after Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake—shifted course and announced his intention to step down when his term ended on Sunday, February 7. Though various stakeholders applauded Martelly for not clinging to power, his departure assigned Haitian legislators the unenviable task of rapidly crafting an interim government to avert the crisis that a gaping power vacuum would likely produce.

In an interview with the Associated Press, special OAS mission leader and Antiguan diplomat Ron Sanders described the last-second deal, which temporarily delegates executive authority to Prime Minister Evans Paul, stipulates that Parliament elect an interim president for a term of up to 120 days, and calls for presidential and legislative run-offs in mid-April. Sanders played down his own role in the negotiations process, asserting that he was merely a witness to the talks and not a participant in them.

Moving forward, the OAS mission and OAS Group of Friends of Haiti should maintain a role identical to the one played by Sanders in this past weekend’s dialog, observing at the periphery and intervening only if and when the interim government and the soon-to-be-assembled Provisional Electoral Council make explicit appeals for assistance. To avoid domestic and international skepticism, the Provisional Council must quickly communicate to the Haitian electorate a strategy that ensures transparency in the upcoming elections. Moreover, both Haitian and foreign officials should remain vigilant of the escalating protests that continue to rage on the streets of Port-au-Prince, though many believe that the unrest will begin to subside in the aftermath of the brokered agreement.

Dèyè mòn, gen mòn­—beyond mountains, there are mountains—goes the Haitian Creole proverb, referring to the many hardships Haiti has faced since becoming the world’s first free majority black republic in 1804. Indeed, Haitian officials, no strangers to political uncertainty, will have more hurdles to clear before the ongoing transition is complete and the democratic future of their small island nation is secured. But for now, Haiti has put one mountain in its rearview mirror and proved to the international community its ability to beat back the threat of impending political catastrophe.

Kirby Neuner is a 2015 graduate of Williams College. He currently works as a Program Assistant at Democracy International, a Bethesda-based democracy and governance firm. The ideas and opinions presented in this article are the author’s alone and are not intended to reflect or represent the organizational views of Democracy International.

Image credit: European Parliament/Flickr.

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