In Haiti, Time Running Out To Schedule Overdue Elections
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In Haiti, legislators are running out of time to schedule long-overdue elections before most of their terms expire next week and Parliament is dissolved. If no action is taken before Monday, the president will be the only politician left with legal standing and will run the country by decree. That would be a major blow to Haiti's young and struggling democracy. It could also jeopardize reconstruction efforts after the devastating earthquake that hit the country five years ago.
NPR's Carrie Khan reports from Port-au-Prince.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: For nearly three years, legislative elections have been postponed for one reason or the other. As of midnight Monday, all but 10 senators' terms run out leaving the body six shy I of a legal quorum and politically useless. Haitians thought their leaders had found a compromise to the political standoff last month when the prime minister was forced out. However, yesterday, as reporters tussled for prime spots outside a luxury hotel high in the hills of the capital, President Michel Martelly and legislative leaders huddled inside trying to keep the deal alive. Senate President Simon Desras emerged from the meeting saying talks are ongoing, but he said little about substance.
SENATE PRESIDENT SIMON DESRAS: (Speaking Creole).
KAHN: "We have our agreements and disagreements," was all the moderate Senate leader would say. In recent days, the opposition's demands seem to have grown. In addition to the prime minister's ouster, a group of six hardline senators want the resignation of all members of the board which oversees elections. In Haiti's rough-and-tumble politics, this is par for the course, says Robert Fatton, politics professor at the University of Virginia.
ROBERT FATTON: Politics in Haiti have traditionally been a question of power, period. You know, if you are in power, you want to keep. It if you are out of power, you want to get it.
KAHN: Fatton says power-sharing is not part of the political culture here. He says the opposition has interpreted the president's compromises as weakness. In fact, some opposition parties, and there are many in Haiti, are now demanding the president's resignation. Some protesters in the streets chant the same and have called for three days of demonstrations beginning today. That has left many in the capital worried.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Shouting in Creole).
KAHN: At the crowded downtown market across the street from Haiti's parliament, everything from tight, nylon miniskirts to colorful, knockoff, Converse tennis shoes is for sale. Twenty-six-year-old Jimmy Oldville sells handsome men's dress shirts and color-coordinated ties. He says holiday sales this year were down 50 percent over last year, and he blames it on the political crisis.
JIMMY OLDVILLE: (Through interpreter) It really affect us, all of us. People in the countryside are afraid to come to Port-au-Prince, to come and by.
KAHN: And, he says, we're all afraid the street protests will turn violent come Monday. That's coincidentally the fifth anniversary of the deadly earthquake which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Haitians.
Forty-five-year-old Adeline Pierre sits in her nearby stall where she sells bright yellow, pink and orange girls shorts. She says she's glad the opposition keeps pushing for Martelly's ouster. But she doesn't want to see chaos in the streets.
ADELINE PIERRE: (Through interpreter) I hope they reach to an agreement so we can avoid the worst. So I'm just hoping for the best.
KAHN: Yesterday, the UN special envoy for Haiti and an International Core Group, which includes the U.S., Canada and their European Union, called on all politicians to immediately come up with a compromise and schedule elections. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.