Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who has been under pressure by Washington to hold long-overdue elections in Haiti as soon as “it’s technically feasible,” declared Friday that there will be no elections until a new constitution is adopted.
“This constitution is like an act of corruption that was signed with a category of people in this country,” said Moïse, complaining about his weakened presidency and the need for a prime minister to be in charge of the day-to-day affairs of the country.
He then said that only after Haitians vote “No” or “Yes” on a new constitution will elections take place.
Moïse’s declaration during an address to the nation is the opposite of what the Trump administration and the Organization of American States have been pushing ever since Parliament became dysfunctional in January, leaving Haiti to be ruled by decree.
While the U.S. has declined to put a date on when Haitians should head to the ballot box to renew both chambers of Parliament and local offices, which expired in July, the OAS has said legislative, local and municipal elections should be under way by January. The organization’s expectation is that elections in Haiti, where there is still no political consensus, millions of qualified voters without voter registration cards and deep insecurity, would take place no later than April 2021.
Elections, which were due last October, failed to take place because of violent anti-government protests and Moïse’s failure to send an electoral law to Parliament to vote on before the terms of all members of the lower Chamber of Deputies expired the second Monday in January, along with two-thirds of the 30-member Senate.
It’s unclear how Moïse’s announcement will be received. The international community itself appears to be divided on the question of constitutional reform versus elections.
While the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, for example, has been vocal about the need for elections in Haiti, it has not showed any public support for Moïse’s campaign to reform the constitution.
The United Nations, on the other end, has been supportive. Helen La Lime, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ representative in Port-au-Prince, has openly advocated for constitutional reform, going as far as penning a June 15 editorial in the country’s daily, Le Nouvelliste, advocating for a Haitian-owned constitutional reform process.
The representative of the European Union, Sylvie Tabesse, said this week that conditions in Haiti do not exist for a EU electoral observation mission to be sent in. In addition to concerns about the increase in violence and criminality and the lack of political consensus with members of the opposition, Tabesse said the EU is unclear about the status of more than 20 recommendations delivered by two of its last missions, in 2015 and 2016.
The purpose of the recommendations is to help limit a deeper crisis once a vote takes place and to help ensure the fairness of the vote and disputes by candidates afterward by, for example, having them go before professionals who have been properly trained to litigate.
“We know that some work has been done but we don’t have clarity on what was done exactly,” Tabesse told the Miami Herald in an interview earlier in the week. “We understand there is a provisional decree that is not taking into account many of our recommendations.”
Tabesse said the EU is reluctant to send electoral observation missions to any country where previous missions issued recommendations that have not been implemented.
Tabesse made clear that the concerns raised about an EU electoral observation mission have nothing to do with the larger debate about whether elections should take place in Haiti and when. The EU, however, stands ready to support the government in addressing the shortcomings it has identified, she said.
In Haiti, where the opposition is pressing for transition over elections, opinions vary about a new constitution. Some political observers point out that the amended 1987 constitution, ratified after the fall of the nearly 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship, has never been respected.
Others, including those who agree on the need for a new constitution, question whether Moïse should be the one to do it. They argue that his recent controversial decision to task a newly appointed nine-member Provisional Electoral Council with organizing a constitutional referendum is unconstitutional and illegal. The constitution, legal scholars say, forbids such a referendum.
“Jovenel Moïse went too far,” said former senator and presidential candidate Steven Benoit. “You spent three-and-a-half years with a majority in Parliament … you want to change the constitution, propose your amendment.”
Moïse did not say Friday how a referendum will take place. Instead, he spent the address laying out his reasons for a new constitution, blaming it for Haiti’s instability and ongoing political crisis. Since coming into office in 2017, he has faced continuous anti-government protests from opponents demanding his resignation, rogue police officers demanding better working conditions and teachers demanding better pay.
Last year before lock-downs began across the Americas with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-government protesters in Haiti shut down the country for much of the year, forcing the closures of schools and businesses.
The current constitution, said Moïse, whose own five-year presidential term is the subject of a constitutional dispute, doesn’t correspondent to Haiti’s culture or how Haitians understand authority.
“It doesn’t correspond to the reality of the country,” he said. “(It’s) a blockage in the governance of the country because all of the institutions cannot function with the model of this constitution.”
Hinting that Haiti needs a strong presidency, Moïse said he’s obligated, under the current constitution, to have a prime minister to execute a program that doesn’t respect the engagement the president wants. “The president always finds himself in difficulty to respect the engagement he took in his electoral campaign with the population.
“The country deserves a modern constitution,” Moïse said. “This new constitution should be adapted to our culture, it should be simple. It should be clear … and it should be easy to apply.”
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