On the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, its political scene is coming down to the wire with its own crisis. Lawmakers are voting Monday on a last-minute deal aimed at quelling a political standoff between the president and opposition parties in the wake of escalating mass protests.
Haitian legislators must vote Monday on an agreement to hold elections for the majority of legislative positions, as well as the presidency, by the end of the year. Most lawmakers’ terms expired Monday, and the vote is being held as part of an emergency session. If they fail to approve the electoral law, the government will be dissolved and President Michel Martelly will rule by decree -- a prospect that has had the nation’s opposition backers on edge.
Martelly announced the deal just hours before the legislators’ terms were due to expire. The elections were originally due for 2011, but opposition leaders blocked the passage of a crucial electoral law, saying the president was attempting to undermine the constitution and that the system is weighted in favor of government-backed candidates. Martelly has blamed opposition parties for the gridlock, while the lawmakers say the president planned to let the legislature’s term run out so he could impose a one-man rule.
Although around 20 political leaders, including some members of the opposition, forged the eleventh-hour deal with Martelly, and the government said it had enough support to pass, a main opposition party, Fanmi Lavalas, said it was not part of the agreement. The party has been a major player in the anti-government protests that have grown louder in recent weeks.
Demonstrators have rallied against Martelly in the wake of the political standoff, calling for his resignation and accusing him of corruption. In December, Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned as a concession to the protesters to calm the escalating tensions. Martelly nominated former Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul as Lamonthe’s replacement, but Paul can’t assume office until he is approved by the legislature.
Additional protests are scheduled for Monday as Haiti commemorates the five-year anniversary of the earthquake that claimed more than 220,000 lives. Post-earthquake recovery has remained uneven as Haiti continues to grapple with housing, slow economic growth and widespread poverty.