This Sunday, February 7 marked the 30th anniversary of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s departure and the end of President’s Michel Martelly’s term. A last-minute negotiated deal secured Martelly’s departure, but it may not succeed in producing a long-term solution. Tensions leading up to February 7 provoked violent confrontations between pro-government paramilitaries and opposition protestors in Port-au-Prince, resulting in one dead, as well as the cancellation of the first day of Carnival. And while foreign diplomats welcomed the accord, a number of opposition parties raised objections to the agreement.
On February 6, Martelly publicly signed a political accord with Chancy Cholzer and Jocelerme Privert, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, respectively. The agreement confirmed that Martelly would leave office and laid out a process for establishing a transitional government to take over. The parliament will select a new provisional president within 5 days following the end of Martelly’s term. The new president will then engage in consultations to appoint a consensus prime minister and “redynamize” the CEP. Once a new government is in place, the accord stipulates, it is responsible for implementing the “technical recommendations” of the Evaluation Commission and “restarting” the electoral process begun in 2015. The interrupted elections are to resume on April 24, definitive results to be announced on May 6, and a new President sworn in on May 14.
In his final speech as President on Sunday, Martelly expressed satisfaction with the political accord, saying lawmakers “gave me a guarantee that the country is going to be stable.” Martelly also directly referred to the electoral impasse, admitting that although he had the sense of “a job well done,” there was also “a mission that is not yet completed.” A small group of PHTK protestors greeted the outgoing president outside the parliament, wearing pink shirts with the words “Je Suis Martelly.” Thousands of anti-Martelly protesters also took to the streets in the capital, the mood a mix of defiant celebration and uncertainty as to what comes next.
The international community were unanimously favourable toward the accord, emphasizing the need to complete the elections as quickly as possible. The Core Group welcomed the signing of the accord, seeing it as “a crucial step towards overcoming the political challenges Haiti faces.” The Core Group statement described the agreement as “a solution in keeping with the Constitution” and invited “the actors concerned to implement all the commitments entered into,” especially “the continuation of the electoral process within the timeframes indicated.” The U.S. State Department also hailed the accord for ensuring “the continuity of governance and the completion of the ongoing electoral process.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon likewise celebrated the accord for “providing a roadmap to the swift conclusion of the electoral cycle underway.”
The Group of Eight (G-8), on the other hand, immediately condemned the accord as anti-democratic and unconstitutional. The G-8 denounced the large role given to parliament in the accord, given the questionable legitimacy of many members of parliament. Instead, the Group suggested an alternative solution by handing the power to the Court of Appeal and called for the establishment of an electoral verification commission that would examine both the October 25 and August 9 elections. Fanmi Lavalas made a similar call for an investigation of both the presidential and legislative elections, as did other parties such as FUSION, Kontrapèpla, and OPL. The G-8 statement, however, was only signed by Samuel Madistin; although official still part of the G-8, Jude Célestin and his party LAPEH have not yet made any statements regarding the accord.
The accord was concluded on the heels of a tense day in the capital and other cities. On Friday, groups of armed militia men claiming to be ex-soldiers from Haiti’s disbanded military patrolled menacingly through Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes and other cities. In Port-au-Prince, the appearance of pro-government paramilitaries coincided with a demonstration calling for Martelly’s resignation. Paramilitaries fired shots at the demonstrators near Champs de Mars, who responded by attacking the ex-soldiers with stones, resulting in the death of one paramilitary. After February 7, one paramilitary member warned, “all illegal arms will become legal!” Neither MINUSTAH troops nor HNP officers made any attempt to control the paramilitaries.
MINUSTAH condemned the violence in a statement issued the following day and “noted with concern the organized presence of several dozen people in green uniforms, some of whom were armed.” Although it was unclear who was in charge of the armed men, former paramilitary leader and Senate candidate Guy Philippe had recently threatened to have his supporters march on Port-au-Prince. “We are ready for war,” Philippe said in a radio interview on January 24. The G-8 pointed out the coincidence of the political accord and the deployment of paramilitaries, criticizing the signatories for ignoring this “serious event” and the threat it represents for democracy.
Earlier in the week, protests against the controversial arrival of an OAS Special Mission had continued, with a sit-in held outside the U.S. embassy on February 4. In a statement released on Thursday, the Coordination Europe-Haiti (CoEH), for their part, urged the European Union to support Haitian democracy, strongly criticizing the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission for taking “the position of defending the legitimacy of the 25 October election outcome, even after the Government of Haiti’s decision to postpone the second round indefinitely.” The EU Observation Mission was the only international mission to explicitly take this stance. CoEH urged the Mission to “prove its independence and professionalism” and “stop minimising the ‘serious’ irregularities, verging on fraud, as observed by the BCEN and the CEEI during their verifications, and denounced by a large majority of civil society and the political opposition.”
Despite strong opposition among Haitians to foreign intervention, some foreign commentators claimed prior to the accord that a Haitian-led solution was impossible. The Washington Post insisted in a February 3 editorial that “a strong international hand is required, one that can encourage or, if necessary, coerce the country’s political, civic and business leaders to come to terms on a Haitian resolution.” The OAS Special Mission, which was present during both the negotiations leading to the accord and the signing ceremony on February 6, judged that its presence had “a favourable impact on the search for a consensus formula among the various groups.” The State Department also highlighted the “constructive role” played by OAS Special Mission in fostering a “spirit of consensus.”
Following, Martelly’s verbal harassment of Liliane Pierre-Paul, a journalist from Radio Kiskeya, women’s organizations and civil groups organized a gathering in support of Ms. Pierre-Paul, Jean Monard Métellus, from Radio Television Caraibes, and the country’s independent media.
While Martelly may be gone, the resolution of Haiti’s electoral crisis is far from guaranteed. Martelly departed as he came, as one headline put it (in reference to his contested 2010 electoral victory): amid uncertain and disorder.