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Authoritarianism in Haiti: a driver of increasing violence

The president is proposing controversial constitutional change and general and legislative elections. Without a parliament, its judiciary weakened, rife with accusations of political repression and presidential decrees being called into question – Haiti is teetering on the brink of crisis, uncertainty and instability.

 

Aneli Ruiz Garcia

 

The nation has recently experienced an attempted coup and assassination (as alleged by the authorities), the removal of three “immovable” supreme court judges, and the establishment of a parallel government – an explosive cocktail for a country with little more than 11 million inhabitants.

At the heart of the problem is the disputed presidential mandate of Jovenel Moïse, who, long before recent events, faced widespread protests against his governance, accusations of corruption, and criticism over the increasing violence and the power of paramilitary groups.

Plural political opposition, civil society organisations, the Federation of Haitian Lawyers, religious leaders and even the judiciary, have declared that Moïse’s term should have ended on Sunday 7 February, a symbolic date because it marks the anniversary of the fall of the dictatorship. Moïse, on the other hand, does not agree.

Opposition forces argue that article 134.2 of the current Constitution is relevant, which provides for a presidential term to be reduced in the event of problems with the vote counting; they consider the 2016 repeat elections a continuation of the 2015 elections, which were invalidated by claims of fraud.

The government takes the opposing view: that Moïse took office in 2017, to govern for a period of five years – an opinion shared by organisations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Against this backdrop, the opposition defied Moïse and named a transitional government, led by the most senior supreme court judge, Joseph Mécène, who, together with five colleagues from the judiciary, declared the president’s mandate over.

In response, the government issued a decree forcibly retiring three judges, including Mécène, who it called “self-proclaimed” and a “usurper”, which represents “a serious violation of the Constitution and the law”.

The other judges forced to retire are Yviquel Dabrésil, accused of conspiracy against internal state security, and Wendelle Thélot, who last September blocked the swearing in of the Provisional Electoral Council, named by the president.

Although the authorities have sought to justify their actions, stating that this is not the first time the government has dismissed judges before the end of their term of office (a term considered immovable by current legislation), civil society organisations warn that the judiciary is being weakened at a time when there is no functioning parliament, meaning the government is left without a counterweight.

Meanwhile, anti-government protests continue in the streets. While these are fewer than in recent years, they have become more radical and are met with heavy police response. (PL)

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: rebeccandhlovu@hotmail.co.uk) – Photos: Pixabay

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