PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – President Michel Martelly announced Tuesday he has appointed a new council to oversee Haitian legislative and local elections that are two years overdue, an important step to organizing a vote whose tardiness has frustrated many.
In a posting on his Facebook page and in a separate email, the leader said the newest member of the council is Frizto Canton, a high-profile lawyer who is defending former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier against human rights abuse and embezzlement charges.
The council will include three representatives each from the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
"The president is doing everything he can to make sure elections happen" this year, Joseph Lambert, a former senator and now Martelly consultant, said on Radio Tele Zenith FM.
He shrugged off a question about Canton's position as attorney for the controversial former dictator who returned to Haiti in 2011. "A lawyer lives by his profession," Lambert said.
Longtime opposition leader Sauveur Pierre-Etienne objected to the decree, alluding to members of parliament who had not submitted three candidates to be members of the electoral council.
"It's not over yet," Pierre-Etienne said on Radio Metropole.
Despite pressure from the United Nations, U.S. and others, efforts to hold the vote were snarled by political infighting between the executive and legislative branches. But representatives of the two sides signed an agreement to hold elections before year's end, apparently appeasing international donors who have been increasingly frustrated over the delay.
The Chamber of Deputies recently approved the agreement, which proposes late October for the balloting. The Senate has yet to vote, its president saying the accord is not a legal-binding document.
Washington warned Haitian authorities last month that $300 million earmarked for the country's tiny coast guard, health ministry and other projects was at risk because of the tardy vote. But the U.S. is seen as unlikely to act on the threat because of its overall support for the Martelly administration.
The elections would fill 20 seats in the 30-member Senate, all 99 seats in the lower chamber and 140 municipal positions.
The terms of 10 senatorial seats are due to expire in January, which would leave the body with only 10 senators and unable to form a quorum. If the vote isn't held by then, Martelly would rule by decree.
Associated Press writer Evens Sanon contributed to this report.