Interim president's mandate expires in drifting Haiti

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Haiti appeared to enter into another leaderless drift Wednesday as the provisional president's 120-day mandate came to a close amid backroom negotiations and delays by the deeply polarized country's political class.

Lawmakers were scheduled to meet Tuesday to decide whether to extend caretaker President Jocelerme Privert's term until new elections can be held or pave the way for new interim leader. But a National Assembly session failed to take place on the day Privert's tenure expired under the deadline of a February accord that helped put him in power.

In a message issued late Tuesday, the current leaders of the bicameral legislature said Parliament was "conscious of its responsibilities" and citizens would soon be informed about decisions made about the interim president's fate.

Whether Privert is still Haiti's caretaker president depends on who you talk to.

Emmanuel Jean Francois, communications chief for the prime minister's office, insisted there was no institutional vacuum and matters would be resolved once lawmakers convened in National Assembly. Privert has repeatedly said that his future will be decided by the divided Parliament, whose members elected him as interim leader amid suspended elections.

"President Privert is still Haiti's leader. It's just that the Parliament was not yet able to gather to make a final decision on whether to extend his term," Francois said during a phone interview.

But lower House lawmaker Gary Bodeau insisted that Privert's term was unquestionably finished. He argues that Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles automatically became Haiti's top official at midnight Tuesday.

"It would be illegal and unconstitutional for Privert to remain in the National Palace," Bodeau said.

Haitian historian Georges Michel said he believed that only force would remove Privert from power before elections could take place — and he didn't see that as a very likely possibility.

"It's impossible to say what will happen, but the country is very quiet and very calm for now. So in coming days I think we will see a sort of status quo," he said.

The Tet Kale political party of former President Michel Martelly announced a "popular mobilization" to force the ouster of Privert on Tuesday. But it failed to get many participants and a protest was hastily rescheduled for Thursday.

Meanwhile, over 1,000 protesters aligned with the Fanmi Lavalas faction marched Tuesday through poor neighborhoods of Haiti's capital chanting: "We want Privert to stay!"

But many Haitians are deeply skeptical about the country's politics due to years of broken promises.

"If they wanted to our politicians could find a solution to this latest mess. But they only care about themselves," said Mickelange Fontilus, who sells women's underwear at a street stall near the National Palace compound.

Nearby, third-year law student Yves Laurent Bernadeau said he had little faith that Haiti's divided Parliament could find a workable solution.

"Haiti's Parliament is totally divided and we might just have to live with this until we can figure things out as a country," he said.

At the Organization of American States general assembly in the neighboring Dominican Republic, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described Haiti as an "area of concern," saying its citizens deserved "the chance to express their will and elect a president without further delay."

Haitian electoral officials recently announced that a new presidential election will be held in October with additional safeguards to avoid the fraud that marred last year's voting.


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