Haiti moves closer to constitutional referendum, elections

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian President Jovenel Moise has appointed nine members to a provisional electoral council tasked with preparing a constitutional referendum and organizing local, municipal, legislative and presidential elections in the Caribbean country.

FILE PHOTO: Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during a news conference to provide information about the measures concerning coronavirus, at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

The United States government this week reiterated a strongly worded call for Moise and other political forces to work together and arrange the elections.

Moise has ruled the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation by decree since mid-January and in recent weeks renewed protests against his leadership have flared up.

The appointments to the provisional electoral council published on Friday in the government’s newspaper are unlikely to placate Moise’s opponents who argue he has failed to control corruption, crime and economic decline.

An anti-government demonstration by Haitians calling for Moise’s ouster and other changes is planned for Sunday; earlier protests have often been violent and led to deaths.

It is not clear what the constitutional referendum will entail but Moise has previously said the powers of the president needed to be strengthened.

The presidency was weakened in Haiti’s 1987 Magna Carta.

Haitians mistrusted strong figureheads in the wake of the Duvalier family dictatorship notorious for human rights abuses and corruption.

Moise has said he wants to break a “decades-long cycle of political crises” and could use a referendum to push through the overhaul of the constitution if he has no parliament to approve it.

Among the new members, there are no representatives of key sectors instructed by the constitution such as the Episcopale Conference, the University Council, the Association of Journalists and others.

The appointments will likely be met with more resistance from the different opposition groups, united in their discontent over the government of Moise, a former banana exporter who took office in 2017.

Reporting by Andre Paultre in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; editing Frank Jack Daniel and Diane Craft