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Haiti Opposition To Pick Interim President — But Current President Not Budging

Dieu Nalio Chery
A Haitian street vendor pushes her wares away from burning tires on a Port-au-Prince street this week as demonstrators ramped up calls for the removal of President Jovenel Moise.

As protesters demand Haitian President Jovenel Moïse leave office, he and his opponents disagree on his constitutional departure date — by an entire year.

Haiti’s political crisis got deeper this week as the opposition plans to name an interim president to replace the man much of the country accuses of being a dictator.

On Monday, Haitian opposition leaders agreed to create a commission that will select a Supreme Court judge to be Haiti’s interim president. They say that new leader would take over for President Jovenel Moïse — who they insist must step down this Sunday.

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According to Haiti’s Constitution, the current President is technically supposed to leave office on Feb. 7 of this year. But that’s not happening because Moïse insists he has one year left of his constitutional five-year term.

Here’s what's at the heart of the divide:

Haiti had a presidential election in the fall of 2015. Moïse claimed victory then, but accusations of fraud forced a do-over election — which wasn’t held until the fall of 2016. Moïse won that vote and finally took office in February 2017.

As a result, Moïse argues he doesn’t have to leave office until February of 2022 — while his opponents say the Constitution demands his presidency end this year.

And they’re supported by a growing number of protesters angry at Haiti’s economic, corruption and violent crime crises including a rampant wave of ransom kidnappings. In recent days they've held general strikes demanding the ouster of Moïse, who has ruled by decree for the past year — and wants to create a new secret police force in Haiti — while continuing to delay new parliamentary elections.

He now says those elections, as well as a new presidential vote, will take place next September. Before that, he insists Haitians must first vote in a yes-or-no referendum on a new Constitution in April.

Among the constitutional reforms is a strengthened Haitian presidency — an institution many legal experts acknowledge was greatly weakened compared to the country's parliament in the 1987 Constitution, a response to the brutal Duvalier dictatorship that ended in 1986.

Another reform would let members of the Haitian diaspora run for president of Haiti and other high-level offices there. Haitian expats — who send billions of dollars in remittances back to Haiti each year — have long urged Haiti's political and business establishment to allow them a stronger leadership role in the impoverished nation's development.

U.S. congressional leaders say they're also losing patience with Moïse and his increasingly authoritarian governance — as do Haiti's influential Roman Catholic bishops.

This week they're warning Haiti "is on the brink of an explosion" and suggested Moïse follow the letter of the Constitution the way he has often demanded others in Haiti do.