The naming of economist Fritz Jean as provisional prime minister marks another milestone toward the formation of an interim government and the restarting of Haiti’s elections. Opposition in parliament to Jean’s nomination, however, may make confirmation of his government difficult. With only 65 days left in his term, provisional President Jocelerme Privert is confronting a number of daunting challenges: delays in the creation of a new electoral council (CEP), disputes over an eventual verification commission, donor insistence on the deadlines of the February 6 political accord and rising insecurity.
After a series of consultations with political and civil society groupings, President Privert appointed Fritz-Alphonse Jean as provisional prime minister. Jean, an economist and university professor, was sworn in on Friday, February 26. In his inauguration speech, Jean declared that his “principal mission” as prime minister was “earn the trust of all the political actors involved in this acute political crisis.” He also emphasized the need to clean up the Haitian government’s finances. The Group of Eight (G8) candidates deplored the fact that Fritz Jean’s first speech as Prime Minister’s speech skirted the question of an independent electoral verification commission, and avoided discussing how he planned to deal with the electoral crisis more generally. The ceremony took place in the National Palace with members of the political opposition to Martelly and foreign diplomats, including UN chief Sandra Honoré, present.
The most notable absence at Jean’s inauguration was outgoing Prime Minister Evans Paul, who refused to take part. Joined by ministers of his government, Paul held a press conference earlier in the day before the ceremony where he denounced the selection of Jean. Speaking from his residence, Paul argued that Jean had not been chosen in consultation with the presidents of the two Chambers of parliament, as required by the Constitution and the political accord. Parliamentarians from Martelly’s PHTK, Youri Latortue’s AAA and OPL made similar procedural criticisms of Jean’s appointment.
Privert had consulted with both Cholzer Chancy of the Chamber of Deputies and Ronald Larèche of the Senate prior to naming Jean. But Paul and other political figures close to Martelly argued that Privert’s consultations were not valid, since Larèche was only Vice-President of the Senate and no election has been held to choose a new Senate president. Privert, who stepped down as Senate president to assume the reins of power, replied that Constitution clearly states that the vice-president takes over the responsibilities of the Senate’s president in case of a vacancy.
In Parliament, opponents of Jean’s installation as prime minister argued further that he was too close to Lavalas, making the transition government politically unbalanced. Although nominated by the human rights sector and widely regarded as a politically-neutral technocrat, Jean’s term as governor of Banque Nationale d’Haiti (Haiti’s central bank) from 1998 to 2001 raised concerns among pro-Martelly factions. In the Senate, Youri Latortue declared that it was “abnormal for the President, the Prime Minister and the President of the Senate to all be from the same Lavalassian tendency.” On March 3, a minority bloc of Senators led by Latortue prevented the selection of a replacement, demanding that the next Senate president be chosen from among their ranks.
(None of the three are in fact members of Fanmi Lavalas; Larèche is a member of former President René Préval’s Vérité party, while Privert is a member of Inite, another party close to Préval, though he served as a minister in Aristide’s second administration, 2001-2004.)
In the Chamber of Deputies, PHTK’s Abel Descollines suggested that legislators might reject the documentation submitted to confirm Jean’s eligibility for the position, using the pretext that they were photocopies rather than originals. The rancor surrounding Fritz Jean’s nomination may be due in part to the fact that one of the candidates passed over in favour of Jean, OPL’s Edgar Leblanc Fils, had been backed by parliamentarians now opposing Jean. Leblanc Fils narrowly lost the election for provisional president to Privert in a marathon session of the National Assembly. The next steps following Jean’s inauguration are the confirmation of his eligibility, the selection of ministers to form a government cabinet and the presentation of his government’s policy, all of which require the approval of parliament.
Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on Monday, February 29 to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2004 coup d’État against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Addressing the crowd outside Parliament, Fanmi Lavalas presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse called February 29, 2004 a “shameful day” in the country’s history. Narcisse insisted that a verification of both the August 9 and October 25 elections was necessary. Pitit Dessalines’ Moïse Jean-Charles, for his part, warned Privert that if a verification commission was not set up soon, his party would begin mobilizing throughout the country.
Former coup leader Guy Philippe also marked the anniversary in a radio address, lauding the heroism of those who had fought the “dictatorship.” Philippe urged his brothers-in-arms to stay mobilized, as there was “a macabre plan, a Machiavellian plan to lead the country directly into a civil war.” Philippe, a candidate for Senate with the Consortium party in the Grand’Anse, warned Privert that elections had to be held on April 24. “The provisional president cannot hold on to power. I, Guy Philippe, and my soldiers are ready to make the great patriotic sacrifice.” Philippe called for violent resistance to the transition government on January 24, and paramilitaries paraded threateningly in the capital and other cities on February 5. Philippe is wanted by the DEA for involvement in drug trafficking.
In the midst of the electoral crisis, insecurity has become a growing concern. Four police officers have been killed in the last two months alone. On March 2, officer Gérald François was shot dead near Portail-Léogane in Carrefour by gunmen on the back of a motorcycle. Another police officer was wounded in the attack. For the last few days, shots have been also heard in the neighbourhoods of La Saline, Simon Pelé and Martissant, where gangs are believed to be fight for control of the markets where ti machann conduct their business. After François’ assassination, Martelly supporters circulated a graphic on social media accusing Lavalas of secretly orchestrating the violence and Privert of planning to “chimèrize” and politicize the HNP.
Privert announced on Monday that Jean Max Bellerive, former Prime Minster under President René Préval, will serve as his chief of staff. Raymond Jeanty, Préval’s right hand, was named the administrator of the National Palace, while Anthony Barbier, a former spokesman for the Group of 184 which opposed Aristide in 2002-2004, was made secretary general. Dany Valet, a journalist and campaign advisor for Moïse Jean-Charles, was put in charge of the task of national dialogue. Other councillors named by Privert include Jean-Marie Chérestal, former Prime Minister under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Joanas Gué, Harry Adam, Kely C. Bastien, and Jean David Génesté.
The strong representation of Vérité party members among Privert’s team was noted with concern by both Pitit Dessalines’ Moïse Jean-Charles and a high-level member of Fanmi Lavalas. Fanmi Lavalas spokespeople have tried to dispel rumours that Lavalas had returned to power, emphasizing that their demands for a verification of the vote remained unmet.
The UN’s Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallón, called on President Privert to find “an effective and just solution” to the highly controversial 2015 election process. Gallón commended Privert’s willingness to find a solution and his commitment to respecting the terms of the political accord. Gallón also met with five presidential candidates who remain divided over the question of whether a verification would look only at fraud during the first round of the October 2015 presidential elections or would involve a more in-depth examination of the entire electoral process.
The Concertation pour Haïti, a Canadian coalition of development NGOs working in Haiti, denounced foreign intervention in Haiti’s electoral process. The Concertation called on the Canadian government to abstain from any interference in the electoral process and to allow the people of Haiti to determine the country’s course.
Progress was made towards the formation of a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Marie-Frantz Joachim of SOFA has been designated as CEP representative for women's sector, replacing Yolette Mengual who resigned on January 29. The Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church named Carlos Hercule as their representative, while the Protestant and the Reformed sector chose Dr Frinel Joseph. The Conference of University Rectors named Lucien Jean Bernard, a lecturer for The Episcopal University of Haiti, as their candidate for the CEP. The human rights sector chose Kettly Julien of the NGO IMED as their representative. They will join the media sector’s representative Léopold Berlanger on the CEP.
Two other sectors have put forward names while the union sector are still debating its choice. The private sector selected Jacques Bernard and Marie-Herolle Michel, while the Vodou and peasants’ sector suggested Kenson Polynice and Jean Richard Joseph. The trade unions have not yet come to an agreement, some favouring outgoing CEP counsellor, Lourdes Edith Joseph, and others backing Josette Jean Dorcely and Lubin Jean Dieudonné. Privert promised on Friday, March 4 that the final list of CEP members would be made public soon.