US urges polls in Haiti but says president can stay until 2022

Opposition and activists want unpopular Haitian President Jovenel Moise to leave office by Sunday as political turmoil deepens.

Amid mounting protests, the United States, which is Haiti's biggest donor, warned that the government should exercise restraint until the elections take place [File: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters]

The United States has accepted unpopular Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s claim to hold power for another year but urged restraint and fresh elections.

Moise has been governing without any checks on his power for the past year and says he remains president until February 7, 2022 – in an interpretation of the Constitution rejected by the opposition which has led protests that assert that term ends Sunday.

“We’ve urged the government of Haiti to organise free and fair legislative elections so that Parliament may resume its rightful role,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

In line with the position of the Organization of American States, the US believes that “a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 7, 2022,” Price said.

But the US, which is Haiti’s biggest donor, warned that the government should exercise restraint until the elections take place.

Decrees should be reserved for the “power to schedule legislative elections and for immediate threats to life, health and safety until the Parliament is restored and can resume its constitutional responsibilities”, Price said.

Voting to elect deputies, senators, mayors and local officials should have been held in 2018 but the polls have been delayed, triggering the vacuum in which Moise says he is entitled to stay for another year.

Civil society anger

In a letter to the UN mission in Haiti, a dozen or so human rights and women’s advocacy groups faulted the mission for providing technical and logistical support for the president’s plans to hold a constitutional reform referendum in April, then presidential and legislative elections later in the year.

“The United Nations must under no circumstances support President Jovenel Moise in his anti-democratic plans,” the letter stated.

These groups said that according to their reading of the poor Caribbean country’s constitution, the president’s term ends Sunday.

The electoral council setting dates for all this voting was appointed unilaterally by the president. Its members have not been sworn in by a court as the law here dictates.

Voting to elect deputies, senators, mayors and local officials should have been held in 2018 but the polls have been delayed, triggering the vacuum in which Moise says he is entitled to stay for another year [File: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP]

Crime – and whether it will prevent proper voting – is another big problem on people’s minds.

In recent months, Haiti has seen a resurgence of kidnappings for ransom that indiscriminately target both the wealthy and the majority living below the poverty line.

The abductions, and the stranglehold of armed gangs on a number of areas throughout the capital Port-au-Prince and the provinces, are all threats to secure elections.

The UN’s political mission in the country, called the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, or BINUH from the French acronym, has been operating since October 2019.

The UN said its mission is to advise the government on promoting and strengthening political stability, good governance and the rule of law.

The letter released Friday was scathing in its criticism of the UN mission.

“Human rights violations are intensifying. The country has become overrun by gangsters under the watch of the United Nations, whose mission is to promote human rights and the rule of law and consolidate institutions,” the letter said.

Source: AFP

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