Sat | Feb 27, 2021

Country braces for unrest as opposition demands new president

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2021 | 7:11 AM
President Jovenel Moise
President Jovenel Moise
In this December, 2020 file photo, protesters chant anti-government slogans during a protest demanding the release of political prisoners and the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti is bracing for a fresh round of
In this December, 2020 file photo, protesters chant anti-government slogans during a protest demanding the release of political prisoners and the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti is bracing for a fresh round of widespread protests with opposition leaders demanding that President Moise step down next month, worried he is amassing too much power as he enters his second year of rule by decree.
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Flying rocks. Burning tires. Acrid smoke. Deadly gunfire.

Haiti braced for a fresh round of widespread protests starting Friday, with opposition leaders demanding that President Jovenel Moïse step down next month, worried he is amassing too much power as he enters his second year of rule by decree.

“The priority right now is to put in place another economic, social and political system,” André Michel, of the opposition coalition Democratic and Popular Sector, said by phone. “It is clear that Moïse is hanging on to power.”

Opposition leaders are demanding Moïse’s resignation and legislative elections to restart a Parliament dissolved a year ago.

They claim that Moïse’s five-year term is legally ending – that it began when former President Michel Martelly’s term expired in February 2016. But Moïse maintains his term began when he actually took office in early 2017, an inauguration delayed by a chaotic election process that forced the appointment of a provisional president to serve during a year-long gap.

Haiti’s international backers have echoed some of the opposition’s concerns, calling for parliamentary elections as soon as possible. They were originally scheduled for October 2019 but were delayed by political gridlock and protests that paralysed much of the country, forcing schools, businesses and several government offices to close for weeks at a time.

Some in the international community also condemned several of Moïse’s decrees.

One of those limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and had accused Moïse and other officials of embezzlement and fraud involving a Venezuelan programme which provided cheap oil. Moïse and others have rejected those accusations.

Moïse also decreed that acts such as robbery, arson and blocking public roads – a common ploy during protests – would be classed as terrorism and subject to heavy penalties. He also created an intelligence agency that answers only to the president.

The Core Group, which includes officials from the United Nations, US, Canada and France, questioned those moves.

“The decree creating the National Intelligence Agency gives the agents of this institution quasi-immunity, thus opening up the possibility of abuse,” the group said in a recent statement. “These two presidential decrees, issued in areas that fall within the competence of a Parliament, do not seem to conform to certain fundamental principles of democracy, the rule of law, and the civil and political rights of citizens.”

Moïse has dismissed such concerns and vowed to move forward at his own pace.

In a New Year’s tweet, he called 2021 “a very important year for the future of the country”. He has called for a constitutional referendum in April followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in September, with runoffs scheduled for November.

“There is no doubt elections will happen,” Foreign Minister Claude Joseph told The Associated Press, rejecting calls that Moïse step down in February. “Haiti cannot afford another transition. We need to let democracy work the way it should.”

Joseph said Moïse remains open to dialogue and is ready to meet anytime with opposition leaders to solve the political stalemate.