Main menu

Haiti Update: Five Years after Earthquake, Country Faces Political Turmoil

Haiti Parliament

Haiti's parliament dissolved as many legislators' terms ended. (AP)

January 12, 2015

Updated January 16—Haiti faces a political crisis as the country’s parliament dissolved and left the president to rule by decree. As the country marked the five-year anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake on January 12, the terms of many legislators expired, with elections long behind schedule. The government was due to call a legislative and municipal vote since 2011, but elections were repeatedly postponed, leading to political discord and protests. This week, Parliament did not manage to pass an accord to extend legislators’ terms and schedule elections for this year, leaving the legislature to cease to function.

Since January 2012, the 30-seat Senate operated with two-third of its members, because 10 seats expired at that point. Another 10 seats expired on January 12, 2015, as did the terms of all 99 deputies in the lower house of parliament. As a result, only 10 senators were left in the entire parliament, and President Michel Martelly now effectively rules by decree until new legislators are elected. Mayoral elections remain overdue as well. The terms of 130 mayors expired in 2012, and Martelly appointed “municipal agents” to operate in their place. Repeated protests over the political crisis have taken place in Port-au-Prince.

Last year, the government pushed for action. On June 10, Martelly issued a decree to hold the elections on October 26. But several opposition senators refused to vote on the country’s 2013 electoral legislation necessary to hold the election, leading to a postponement. These senators said the legislation is unconstitutional and gives the executive branch too much power, allowing the president to avoid parliamentary approval to hold a vote. They also claimed the president would have too much influence over the electoral council, a group appointed to carry out the election. “The executive branch has been doing everything in its power to have elections,” Martelly told AS/COA President and CEO Susan Segal in September. “Every time we are about to have elections, the opposition criticizes the electoral council, claiming that we have control over that electoral council.”

Then, in mid-December, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned in a bid to resolve the ongoing political dispute. Martelly then tapped seasoned politician Evans Paul to take Lamothe’s place. Though Parliament has yet to approve his tenure, he took office on January 14. On December 29, the president, the heads of both houses of Parliament, and the chief Supreme Court judge signed an accord to extend lower house terms until April 24, 2015 and Senate terms until September 9, 2015. But the agreement hinged on Parliament passing an electoral law.

On January 11, Martelly announced that he reached a last-minute agreement with several opposition parties to agree to the terms of the December accord. Under this arrangement, municipal, legislative, and presidential elections would take place in 2015, and a new electoral council would be formed that excludes government representatives and political parties.

However, Parliament didn’t approve the agreement by the January 12 deadline, since there were a number of obstacles to pass the legislation. First, the Senate has had trouble reaching quorum since it is operating at two-thirds capacity, and Martelly’s deal excluded a key opposition group. Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald’s Caribbean correspondent, reported via Twitter on Monday that no deal had been reached and that no one had appeared in the Senate that morning.

As of January 13, after a final attempt to negotiate with the opposition fell through, Martelly began effectively rule by decree. The UN Core Group—countries working closely with Haiti, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, and the United States—released a statement on January 13 describing “grave” concern about Parliament. However, the group also “expressed its support to Haiti’s President in the exercise of his constitutional duty to ensure the regular functioning of institutions” and said it trusted all political leaders to act with “responsibility and restraint.”

Meanwhile, January 12 marked the five-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, which killed around 300,000 people and left over 1 million homeless. In addition to domestic pressures for a solution, international entities have also urged an end to the crisis. The UN, U.S. government, and other countries have repeatedly called for elections to take place. In December, Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, a State Department counselor, visited Haiti and met with political leadership. Plus, the UN Security Council is slated to visit the country later this month. On January 11, the U.S. embassy in Haiti released a statement urging legislators to end the impasse, but added: “If such a solution cannot be reached by January 12, the U.S. will continue to work with President Martelly and whatever legitimate Haitian government institutions remain to safeguard the significant gains we have achieved together since the January 12, 2010 earthquake.”