Post: What’s next for Haiti?

Washington Post Editorial Board

In Haiti, it has too often been the case that what can go wrong does go wrong. That’s why it’s such a relief that Haitian leaders, with a critical assist from the Organization of American States, were able to agree on an 11th-hour deal, just before President Michel Martelly was to leave office Sunday with no successor in place, to avert a power vacuum.

It’s also why there remains cause for concern, and the pressing need for international vigilance, as the impoverished Caribbean nation embarks on what is likely to be a volatile interregnum under the auspices of a caretaker government.

Under the agreement struck Saturday, on the eve of the expiration of Martelly’s term, Prime Minister Evans Paul will remain in office until Haiti’s parliament selects a new president. That’s expected to take place in the next few days. Once it does, the accord calls for a new prime minister to be chosen by consensus and for a verification commission to review October’s botched elections. It was those elections that yielded weeks of escalating protests and violence, culminating in the cancellation of a scheduled presidential runoff vote last month.

So far, so good. The problem is how to go forward with a new presidential runoff election, which the deal specifies should take place by April, with so many potential disputes left unresolved.

Already, a handful of the fall’s presidential also-rans – there were 54 candidates – have dismissed the process as illegitimate on the grounds that most members of parliament were elected in the same flawed first-round elections that resulted in the cancellation of the runoff last month. Beyond the immediate selection of the interim president, or of a new prime minister, it is all too easy to imagine bitter disputes arising should the commission reviewing the elections order that the results be revised or scrapped.

Such disputes would be particularly dangerous in the current climate, in which armed men in the uniform of the Haitian army, an institution that was abolished in 1995, have been roaming the streets, clashing with protesters who had been insisting on Martelly’s departure.

Martelly is to be commended for leaving office in accord with the constitution; his failure to do so would almost certainly have triggered a bloodbath. He also agreed to allow a member of an opposition party to be selected as the interim president, the New York Times reported.

However, Martelly is also suspected as the force manipulating those gunmen in the street, a suspicion made credible by the corrupt cronies with whom he surrounded himself as president. And it was Martelly’s heavy-handed attempt to hand-pick a successor, a formerly obscure banana exporter named Jovenel Moise, that helped taint October’s election results.

The last time Haiti was saddled with an interim government, after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster in 2004, it took two years to organize and execute elections. That cannot be allowed to happen again. Haiti wants and deserves a democratically elected new government on the prompt timetable set by the new agreement.

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