Haiti leaders seek way out of political crisis


By David McFadden, AP

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–Haitian President Michel Martelly would step down on schedule in two weeks, an interim government would take over and a runoff vote would be held within months.

These are the contours of a potential solution to Haiti’s political crisis that was beginning to emerge Monday, according to officials taking part in the discussions. The crisis follows the indefinite postponement of elections, which has generated fears of backsliding into instability.

Haitian political leaders and others with influence have been meeting behind closed doors to discuss a way out of the impasse. There were no official announcements, but officials said they were working toward a mediated solution following a surge of violent protests and a looming constitutional crisis.

“We know we have to work fast because we have a very short time to resolve this crisis,” said Senate President Jocelerme Privert, an opposition lawmaker who is a central figure in the talks. “If Haiti needs anything it is political stability.”

Haiti had been scheduled to hold the runoff vote Sunday. But on Friday, the electoral council canceled it, for a second time, amid protests and suspicion that the first round was marred by massive fraud favoring Martelly’s chosen candidate, Jovenel Moise.

The second-place presidential candidate, Jude Celestin, rejected the first-round results as a “farce” and alleged vote-rigging by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council. Martelly, who cannot run for a second consecutive term, is required under the Constitution to leave office by Feb. 7.

For now, a number of proposals are being discussed in negotiations being held in Haiti’s National Palace and elsewhere. Privert said that Martelly has told him in several recent meetings that that he would step down on schedule early next month.

The Senate president cautioned that negotiations were far from settled. But he said consensus could be building for a plan that calls for an interim government to take power on Feb. 7. New elections would be held as soon as possible so a newly elected leader could take office, perhaps this spring.

Others with knowledge of the discussions agreed with his description of the current proposals. One Martelly ally with knowledge of the talks said the president wants the interim government to hold power for the minimum time necessary, just long enough to organize a new election. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the negotiations.

There’s growing concern in some quarters that an inability to forge a deal might roll back a decade of relative political stability and scare off foreign investment in the hemisphere’s poorest nation.

“This situation is very worrying because reaching consensus is not going to be easy, knowing Haiti’s political actors,” said Rosny Desroches, a member of a special electoral commission that had unsuccessfully pushed for a political dialogue to ease electoral tensions.

While Martelly meets with legislative leaders, the “Group of Eight” opposition alliance, led by Celestin, asserts that Haiti’s new Parliament was installed illegally and can’t provide solutions.