Haiti urgently needs international help overcoming its political crisis

Originally posted by The Washington Post

After months of mounting instability and political violence, Haiti now is days away from a full-bore leadership crisis. The way out of the impasse is unclear. What is clear is that the current, failed president, Michel Martelly, must go.

Under Haiti’s constitution, Mr. Martelly, who took office in 2011, must step down when his term ends Sunday. However, a runoff election to choose his successor was canceled amid street protests and political upheaval last month, leaving no alternate date for a vote and no plan for a democratic transition.

Now Mr. Martelly is suggesting that he may remain in office if there is no consensus on replacing him. That should be a non-starter, given his record of thuggish conduct, mismanagement and poor governance, his contempt for democratic processes, and his complicity in leading the country into its current dead end. Should Mr. Martelly be permitted to retain power, there is every reason to fear that Haiti, with its history of political turmoil, would be in danger of bloody upheaval. The international community cannot allow that to happen.

There are a number of conceivable exits from the stalemate. None of them would be easily arranged in the absence of strong institutions and trusted legal bodies in Haiti. Any chance of a peaceful resolution will require timely and assertive diplomacy by the Organization of American States, the United States and other influential international actors.

One way forward would be the formation of an interim government — ideally chosen by the National Assembly, not by Mr. Martelly — charged with promptly overseeing new elections. Such a transition might be led by a Haitian Supreme Court justice, by Senate President Jocelerme Privert, by former president René Préval or by another respected figure, and would need to reorganize Haiti’s discredited electoral commission so the country can proceed to a new vote.

Granted, no such interim government would enjoy complete constitutional legitimacy, and there are precious few public figures in Haiti who enjoy broad public backing. Unfortunately, Mr. Martelly is not among them.

If an interim government is constituted, its sole task should be to organize elections as quickly as possible. That would be a difficult job given that six of Haiti’s nine electoral council members have resigned. Moreover, the country’s contentious political culture, poisoned by the autocratic Mr. Martelly, is ill-suited to compromise.

That’s why a strong international hand is required, one that can encourage or, if necessary, coerce the country’s political, civic and business leaders to come to terms on a Haitian resolution.

The history of international intervention in Haiti’s affairs is mixed, at best, and it is undeniable that many Haitians distrust outside meddling. Still, the uncomfortable truth is that Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest and in some ways most dysfunctional nation, seems ill-equipped for now to manage a transparent democratic transition of leadership on its own. The risk of a vacuum of power is real, and the economy, beset by inflation and a weak currency, is teetering. The country desperately needs an effective government and international help in arranging elections that produce one.