Haiti enters uncertain political phase as parliament dissolved

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The Haitian parliament was dissolved on Tuesday after the failure of last-ditch negotiations for a deal to extend the terms of its members to avert a political crisis in the Caribbean country.

Haiti's President Michel Martelly addresses the audience during a memorial held for the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince January 12, 2015. REUTERS/Marie Arago

Haiti has not held legislative or municipal elections for three years, and the lack of a working parliament effectively leaves President Michel Martelly to rule by decree.

Martelly launched last-minute negotiations, but failed to convince a group of opposition senators to approve a U.S.-sanctioned plan to extend parliamentary terms for several months until new elections can be held.

On Tuesday, the United Nations “Core Group,” which includes countries working closely with Haiti, such as the United States, Brazil, Canada, and the European Union, issued a statement saying it “deplores the fact that the Haitian parliament has become dysfunctional,” while offering its support for Martelly.

“In these exceptional circumstances, the ‘Core Group’ trusts that the Executive and all the political actors will act with responsibility and restraint,” it added.

Martelly, whose term in office runs out next year, last month tried to calm opposition critics by appointing former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul as the new prime minister, but the parliament shunned his pick and refused to ratify him.

“I was expecting to be invited by the parliament. It did not happen, but it’s not me who refused to introduce myself,” Paul said in an interview. Now as de facto prime minister, he said he still planned to try to form a new government.

“I’ve started consultations with political parties to compose my government, but the consensus is not easy to get,” he said.

For weeks, opponents to Martelly have mounted street protests in the capital accusing the president and his family of corruption. The demonstrations took a more aggressive turn in recent days, with some protesters calling for a civil war.

On Monday, Haiti marked the fifth anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in the capital. Many Haitians are still homeless.

On Sunday, with negotiations were still underway to avoid an institutional vacuum, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti issued a statement offering its support to Martelly.

“The U.S. will continue to work with President Martelly and whatever legitimate Haitian government institutions remain to safeguard the significant gains we have achieved together since the January 12, 2010 earthquake,” it said.

In a weekend interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Paul said he had to work on securing the trust of the international community.

“It’s not easy because the crisis of confidence is based on a tradition of people not keeping to their word.”

The country’s political divisions have led to a “chaotic atmosphere,” he said in an interview at the prime minister’s official residence late on Saturday as street protests continued.

It is unclear when new legislative and municipal elections can be held.

A tentative agreement late last month would have extended the terms of the deputies until April 24, and senators until Sept. 9, allowing time to pass an electoral law and appoint an elections council.

The political accord had been favorably received by Haiti’s largest foreign donors, particularly the United States and the UN, which have expressed concern that the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is again on the brink of political chaos.

The UN Tuesday called on all parties “to organize, as soon as technically feasible, inclusive, fair, transparent and equitable elections in 2015,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

Haiti is scheduled to hold presidential elections at the end of the year.

Writing by David Adams, editing by G Crosse