Haiti: in the midst of a legitimacy crisis, the government wants to reform political life

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The Haitian authorities made public on Wednesday a draft new constitution in the hope of getting out of the political blockages that paralyze the country, a text that would strengthen the powers of the executive at a time when President Jovenel Moïse is in the hot seat.

A constitutional referendum is scheduled for April 25 for approval of the text by the people.

Its application would upset the country’s political scene with the abolition of the Senate and that of the post of prime minister, replaced by a vice-president elected at the same time as the president, in a single-round vote instead of two today.

The goal of such a reform for the president: to limit political paralysis at each change of cabinet.

The approval of the general policy of the Prime Minister by the legislative power has in fact always been the object of long negotiations with parliamentarians, and of consequent blockages.

The current constitution, adopted in 1987 after three decades of dictatorship by father and son Duvalier, is criticized from all sides for its rigidity, but the timing chosen by Jovenel Moïse to engage the country in this political turn is not optimal in the eyes of growing criticism against him.

The political opposition and a growing number of civil society organizations consider that the mandate of the Head of State ends this Sunday, which President Moïse contests.

UN logistical support

In Haiti, the presidential term lasts five years and begins on February 7 following the elections.

Jovenel Moïse had been announced elected in the first round of the presidential election held in October 2015, but this ballot had been canceled due to fraud.

Declared the winner in the second round of the reorganized election a year later, Mr. Moïse was finally sworn in on February 7, 2017.

His supporters therefore believe that his mandate did not begin until that date and that it will end on February 7, 2022.

But the opposition considers for its part that the mandate comes to an end on February 7.

And the country’s Catholic clergy have now joined the list of civil society entities to declare themselves against the maintenance in power of Jovenel Moïse beyond Sunday.

Asked by the Haitian authorities, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (Binuh), for its part, simply confirmed providing “technical, operational and logistical support” to future elections, without specifying whether it was referring to the presidential election, legislative, or referendum.

Through a press release published at the end of January, Binuh refers to the Provisional Electoral Council as regards the timetable.

Some voices protest against this UN response.

“Does the UN understand that elections cannot be organized in this context of total insecurity? », Is indignant the Haitian sociologist Laënnec Hurbon.

“Does the UN understand what is at stake in the various protests against kidnappings and gangs? », He insists.

“Vegetate in the provisional”

Since the fall, Haiti has seen an upsurge in kidnappings for ransom, which indiscriminately affect the richest inhabitants, and the majority living below the poverty line.

Several peaceful demonstrations organized since June 2020 to denounce this insecurity have been forcefully repressed by the Haitian national police.

Faced with these security and political tensions, the draft constitutional referendum stirs up criticism even in the camp of Jovenel Moïse because the chosen procedure does not seem to respect the provisions of the current constitution.

The text dating from 1987 declares that “any popular consultation aimed at modifying the Constitution by referendum is strictly prohibited”.

Focusing the attention of reformers today, the country’s fundamental law is mentioned as often as it is violated by Haitian politicians.

The Constitutional Council, which should have decided on the duration of the presidential mandate, exists for example only on paper, just like the Permanent Electoral Council.

For more than three decades, each president has illegally drawn up provisional electoral councils.

People who come to power “do not manage to go beyond themselves to put forward the public interest, the general interest: everyone tries to make laws to measure to meet their own needs” denounces the president from the Federation of Haitian Bars, Me Jacques Letang.

“This is what makes us continue to vegetate in the provisional more than 30 years after the end of the dictatorship” concludes the lawyer.

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