Political turmoil hits Haiti

2010-05-06 13:05

Haitian president Rene Preval said yesterday he will stay in office

up to three months past the end of his term if his earthquake-ravaged nation

does not hold a presidential election as scheduled.

His aide said the extension is needed to avoid chaos in case a

ballot cannot be held to choose Preval’s successor.

The announcement set off an outcry from opposition lawmakers, who

called the move unconstitutional and compared Preval to brutal dictators of the

past.

Preval’s five-year term was scheduled to end on February 7 but

electoral officials are struggling to hold the election as scheduled this fall

as it copes with the loss of its headquarters and records, destroyed polling

places, and some 1.6?million displaced or deceased voters.

The electoral council, now operating out of a gym seized in a drug

raid, is also embroiled in controversy. Opposition candidates barred from

February legislative elections that were cancelled after the quake have accused

council members of favouring Preval’s newly formed Unity Party.

One council member also faces dismissal on charges of

embezzlement.

In a decree dated May 4, the 67-year-old Preval said that if an

election is not held before November 28 this year, he can remain in office for

an extra three months - until May 14 next year.

That date falls five years after Preval’s delayed 2006

inauguration, which was pushed back by wrangling over the vote count.

Preval’s chief of staff, Fritz Longchamp, said: “If president

Preval were to leave on February 7, while the new president is not elected, we

would find ourselves in an impossible situation.”

He said prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Cabinet members who

signed the decree “want to make sure that the country is not going to slip into

chaos.”

Opposition lawmakers slammed the decision. Senator Youri Latortue

said the move violated the constitution and pledged to challenge it before

Haiti’s Supreme Court.

Acluche Louis-Jeune, a deputy with the Struggling People’s

Organization party, told Haiti’s Channel 11 that Preval is trying to stay in

office to profit from the $12.7?billion-and-counting pledged in reconstruction

aid.

Louis-Jeune said: “He’s trying to make himself president for life

like (ex-dictators Francois and Jean-Claude) Duvalier.”

Longchamp said Parliament’s approval is needed for the extension,

but lawmakers will have to act fast. On Monday all seats in the lower chamber

and a third of the seats in the senate expire.

The February 28 election to replace them could not be held because

of the chaos following the January 12 earthquake.

Preval also served as president from 1995 to 2000. He stepped down

as scheduled when his term ended and handed power back to the man who preceded

him, the re-elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide.



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