A Haitian presidential commission is recommending sweeping changes, including a new prime minister and government to stabilize the country. It also asks President Michel Martelly to abandon plans to rule by decree.
Haitian lawmakers Tuesday rebuffed recommendations in a far-reaching report that called for the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and other key government officials to stave off a worsening political crisis.
The 10-page report, penned by an 11-member presidential commission, sets a timetable for Lamothe’s resignation. It also recommends replacing the head of the country’s Supreme Court and members of the body charged with organizing long-delayed elections. Dozens who have been arbitrarily arrested and deemed by human rights groups to be political prisoners should be released, the report said.
The recommendations are “calming measures” intended to show the will of Haiti’s leaders to reduce the tensions dividing the country, the commission said.
Parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide strongly disagreed with the report.
“It’s asking for too much,” said Deputy Abel Descolines, a pro-government lawmaker and first secretary of the lower Chamber of Deputies. “We believe the better alternative is to have a real institutional dialogue.”
The signed recommendations were officially handed to Martelly on Tuesday in a ceremony on the grounds of the demolished presidential palace in the presence of foreign diplomats, who have been pressuring Haiti’s politicians to resolve the crisis.
Martelly told the audience that he plans to address the nation within two to three days about the report’s recommendations. The commission, made up by respected members of Haitian society, was Martelly’s idea. He announced it Nov. 28 at the end of another day of violent protests.
Commissioners were given eight days to examine five issues that arose during more than two months of talks that he held with political parties and civic groups and provide recommendations.
“The commission offers a way out of the crisis if Michel Martelly accepts all of its recommendations; but then we will deal with new complicated negotiations about the new electoral council, the new prime minister and the new head of the Supreme Court,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia. “The commission’s work is a first and perhaps major step in defusing the crisis, but there is no guarantee that the conflicting sectors will ultimately reach a compromise.”
The recommendations come amid growing discontent over Martelly and Lamothe’s governance, intensified anti-government street protests, a depreciation of the currency and concerns by the international community that Haiti’s democratic gains in recent years could quickly erode.
“The country is facing an economic and structural crisis,” the report states. “To avoid a worsening of the current situation, ‘the most credible solution to the crisis’ should allow a return in a reasonable time, to constitutional normalcy and well-functioning institutions.”
But doubts were already surfacing Tuesday about whether the report is a way out as lawmakers rejected the report and announced plans to come up with their own solutions.
“It is not the resignation of Laurent Lamothe that will provide the solution to the crisis,” Sen. Wencessclass Lambert, a Martelly supporter, said on an afternoon radio talk show.
Like some of his opposition colleagues, Lambert said he doesn’t recognize the commission and its recommendations will carry no weight with parliament, which faces a crisis on Jan. 12 when the terms of the entire lower chamber and 10 senators expire.
“A prime minister has a way in which he rises and falls,” Lambert said. “Parliament is the one who puts him there and they are the only ones who can fire him.”
The commission wrote that in meeting with Lamothe, he said he would step down should Martelly asks for his resignation.
A close friend of Martelly who helped bankroll his 2010 presidential campaign, Lamothe became prime minister in May 2012. But his jet-setting, rising profile and schedule, which reflects a Hillary Rodham Clinton-like method of testing a presidential bid, has enraged opposition groups and worried the international community.
Ignoring the report’s call for a political truce, hard-line opposition leaders announced Tuesday that four days of planned anti-government protests, beginning Friday, will still go on throughout the country.
“This is a rescue operation by the international community aimed at saving the mandate of President Martelly while Martelly is primarily responsible for the crisis,” said Andre Michel, a local attorney and leading opposition figure.
Michel says the recommendations fall short of what the opposition is seeking.
“The resolution of the crisis inevitably requires the forced or voluntary resignation of Martelly, the creation of a credible (provisional electoral council), the release of political prisoners, the establishment of a provisional government and the holding of general elections in 2015. That’s it,” he said.
Commission coordinator Reginald Boulos said the recommendations are not an indictment on Lamothe’s performance but an acknowledgment that Haiti can no longer ignore what’s happening.
Martelly and the opposition have been at a stalemate over an electoral law with six opposition senators blocking the vote on constitutional grounds and a lack of confidence in the provisional electoral council, which is charged with staging the vote. The lack of a law has further delayed the local and legislative elections, which should have taken place in 2011.
“He wants to have control of the elections,” said Sen. Jean-Baptiste Bien-Aime, one of the six senators. “If they had listened to us months ago, the elections would have already been done.”
Both sides accused the other of not wanting elections to take place.
“It has been 254 days since the Senate held a quorum,” Martelly tweeted Monday night, “vote the electoral law.”
One thing the report does not recommend is an extension of the terms of parliament, which means that absent a compromise, Martelly will rule by decree beginning Jan. 12 until elections can take place. But the commission is asking Martelly to use restraints and commit to only issuing the electoral law by decree.
“The President of the Republic,” the report says, should “acknowledge that the country is experiencing a serious situation that requires acts of patriotic grandeur, inviting even his political opponents to join the executive, and formally committing to take no decree except those linked to elections during the parliamentary vacuum period.”
Tholbert Alexis, former president of the lower Chamber of Deputies, said because lawmakers took office more than three months late, they should be allowed the extension.
“The recommendations can resolve part of the problems like the political prisoners and Laurent Lamothe … but not all because President Michel Martelly wants to destroy parliament,” said Alexis. “If he thinks he will destroy parliament, he will fall from power.”
During the past eight days, commission members examined all issues that have been feeding the crisis, including the lack of confidence in the country’s Supreme Court after Martelly made several questionable judicial appointments, including that of the head judge, and in the Haitian National Police.
“The perception of politicization of the Haitian National Police creates distrust and doubts about the possibility of holding the country democratic elections free, fair and inclusive,” the report said.
That solution, outlined in the report, aims to serve several objectives, members agreed: to establish a permanent dialogue between the three branches of government, particularly between the executive and the legislature; allow for a historic compromise between political forces; the formation of a consensus government with the political parties, particularly those represented in parliament; the creation of a climate for holding inclusive, credible and fair elections and restoring public confidence in the judiciary and the police force.
“The deterioration of the political and social environment requires several calming measures and recovery before Christmas,” the report said. “It is therefore imperative to find a political compromise before Jan. 12.”