PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haitian lawmakers have approved President Michel Martelly's choice for a new prime minister, ending a two-month impasse that had hampered the country's efforts to rebuild from the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The Chamber of Deputies voted 62-3 with two abstentions shortly before midnight Thursday to confirm Laurent Lamothe, who will serve as Haiti's head of government and lead earthquake reconstruction efforts. Lamothe was a special adviser to Martelly before being named foreign affairs minister and has been co-chairman of an economic advisory panel with former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Lamothe's approval ends a stalemate created by the sudden resignation of the previous prime minister, Garry Conille. His departure had impeded Martelly's ability to govern and caused unease among donor governments and organizations that have pledged billions of dollars to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
In a brief interview with The Associated Press minutes after the vote, Lamothe, 39, said he would tackle Haiti's extreme poverty, rebuild public buildings that collapsed in the quake, restore the population's confidence in the government, and move the 400,000-plus people displaced by the earthquake who remain in makeshift settlements.
"We have a lot of work to do now," Lamothe said by telephone. "I feel that the country finally has the opportunity to work on the people's problems. We have a lot of different issues to deal with and finally we have the team in place to start solving the people's problems."
Before the legislative debate began Thursday evening, Haiti's leaders came under pressure from Clinton, the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti, who urged them to confirm Lamothe and establish a fully functioning government within the week.
Martelly, a first-time politician, has spent a year in office, but he's had a prime minister for only four of those months, hobbling his ability to govern. Infighting between Martelly and his critics in the opposition-controlled Parliament, and even in his administration, has become routine. Conille resigned in February because he clashed with the president.
"I believe that the Haitian people deserve better from their leaders," Clinton said before the vote. He said officials must set aside their differences and self-interests to "restore confidence in the Haitian institutions so that donor funds can flow again and attract new investment."
Countries around the world and multilateral organizations pledged about $4.5 billion after the earthquake, but only a little more than half of that money has been released, according to the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti. The holdup has been largely attributed to a wait-and-see approach from donors.
Even with the confirmation, it could be days or even weeks before Parliament approves Lamothe's government plan and Cabinet. It's expected that Lamothe will keep many of the same ministers.
The six-hour debate in the Chamber of Deputies, broadcast live on national television, centered around whether Lamothe met residency qualifications. Haiti's constitution requires government officials to have spent five consecutive years in Haiti as well as pay taxes.
Deputy Jean Tholbert Alexis asked his allies in the chamber to vote in favor of Lamothe so the country can move forward, adding that Lamothe's previous career in business warranted trips overseas.
"Businessmen travel a lot, but it doesn't mean that they aren't residents of the country," Alexis said. "For them to order goods they have to move around and that takes them out of their country."
Lamothe's critics charged that he hadn't paid taxes or lived in the nation long enough to be eligible for office. One deputy suggested the required paperwork submitted to show eligibility could've been fraudulent.
"Any papers can be delivered by an authority but are they real?" Deputy Fritz Chery said.
Lamothe is a relative newcomer to Haiti's rough-and-tumble politics. Receiving a college and graduate degree in south Florida, he ran a telecommunications company before he entered public office.
"We cannot fail. The margin for error is zero," Lamothe said. "We will succeed at all costs."