Haiti Loses Its Last Elected Officials as Senate Terms End

Haiti's Senate President Jocelerme Privert attends a session in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

Haiti reached an unfortunate milestone on Tuesday morning, as the last ten senators in its parliament departed from their offices, leaving the country with no elected officials whatsoever.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry is still there, but he was not elected – he became “acting” leader of the government after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.

Haiti has been struggling to hold elections since late 2019, amid crises such as a tidal wave of gang violence, cholera, food and fuel shortages, and general instability. The lower house of the national parliament shut down in January 2020. The Supreme Court convened for the last time in February 2022, with only five of its 12 seats occupied.

The 30 members of the Haitian Senate resigned in waves as their terms expired without any elected replacement. The ten who left office after the terms expired at midnight on Monday were the last to go.

The Miami Herald summed up the sad state of the Haitian government:

Now, for the first time since the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, which told Haitians how their country was going to exist as a nation after the fall of the nearly 30-year father-son Duvalier dictatorship, there are few constitutional entities in existence beyond the struggling, ill-equipped Haiti National Police, a reconstituted army and the court of auditors and administrative disputes whose members’ 10-year mandates are also nearing expiration. There is no functioning electoral commission; no functioning Supreme Court, no constitutional court

There is not a single elected official in the entire country of nearly 12 million people — not a council member, not a mayor and certainly not a president.

The Miami Herald observed that even before the last few elected officials cleaned out their desks, the Haitian government offered only a thin illusion of control, exerting little authority over anything outside the doors of its own headquarters. The government only controls about a third of the capital city, Port-au-Prince, and virtually nothing beyond that.

Violent gangs prone to drugs, rape, and murder are in command across most of Haiti, forcing law-abiding citizens to either flee their homes, or shelter in place and starve.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) declared a Level 5 food security alert in October, the highest level on the scale. The WFP estimated 4.7 million Haitians faced acute hunger, with 1.8 million of them at the “emergency” level, and 19,000 at the imminently life-threatening “catastrophe” level.

“The basic food basket is out of reach for many Haitians. Inflation stands at a staggering 33 percent and the cost of petrol has doubled. The situation is being further exacerbated by a recent cholera outbreak and the lack of potable water which is likely to push more people to the brink of survival,” the WFP warned.

Despite hefty support from the United States and international funding, the Haitian police force is down to less than 9,000 members – just large and well-equipped enough to win a few battles against the gangs, but with little hope of winning the war. 

The United Nations wants an international peacekeeping force to restore order, but no one is eager to join or lead the effort because they know the Haitian people would almost certainly turn against any foreign intervention. The U.N. itself has reduced its presence in Haiti from thousands of peacekeepers and police to barely 60 political staffers.

Prime Minister Henry promised to hold elections in 2023 and reconstitute the Supreme Court, but his proposal for a transitional government was derided by critics as an effort to consolidate his own shaky grip on power. Similar skepticism from the Haitian people greeted his proposal to bring in a “specialized armed force” of foreign troops. Henry tried to establish a five-member transitional council but could only persuade three people to sit on it.

“You can barely call it a democracy any more, and this comes at a time when the state is losing control of the majority of its territory, 60 percent of it, to armed gangs,” lawyer Samuel Madistin told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday. 

Madistin said the state of Haiti “in practical terms no longer exists.” He cast plenty of blame for this state of affairs, from Haitian politicians who dragged their feet on organizing elections to “the international community and the United Nations,” which failed in their mission to “stabilize the country politically.”

“The constitution, which until now we have been referring to as the framework for political transition, is essentially just a letter, because none of the institutional architecture that it describes is currently in place,” Renata Segura of the International Crisis Group told the UK Guardian as the last ten Haitian senators departed.

“The entirety of the power right now is in the hands of the interim prime minister, who has been appointed in highly irregular circumstances and who is very illegitimate among great proportions of the Haitian population,” Segura said.

The Guardian quoted opposition politicians in Haiti who said holding elections while Henry is in power would be pointless because most of the public would question their legitimacy, but Henry has made it clear he has no intention of departing.


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