Haitian citizens have taken to the streets to protest, demanding the removal of President Jovenel Moïse, whose term some claim was supposed to end on February 7, 2021. Other opposition parties have accused Moïse of dictatorial actions, citing the dissolution of the parliament in 2020 and the recent removal of three Supreme Court Justices.
The controversy concerning Moïse’s term length stems from a contested election due to allegations of fraud in 2015. Moïse was officially elected in 2016; however, he did not take office until February 2017. Protesters have cited a provision in the Haitian Constitution that “starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office,” reports CNN. Moïse countered this assertion, saying that the Haitian Constitution lacks clarity.
Amidst the constitutional confusion, Moïse has established a new electoral council and committee to redraft the existing constitution, according to The New Yorker. The rewriting of the Haitian Constitution is meant to be Moïse’s legacy project to make future governance more effective. However, many are concerned about the legitimacy of rewriting the constitution without parliamentary and institutional checks-and-balances.
In the current constitution, there is a provision that prevents presidents from holding office for consecutive terms. However, there is no limit on the number of times that one can hold office. This provision is meant to reduce the possibility of authoritarian rule in Haiti. The New Yorker reports that in the most recent draft released by Moïse’s committee, there is no “prohibition against consecutive Presidential terms.” This is a major concern for many Haitians who remember the 29-year term characterized by a violent military presence held by the father-son duo, Francois and Jean-Claude Duvaulier, from 1957 to 1986.
Although some members of the international community, including the United Nations and the Biden administration, have supported Moïse’s term ending in 2022, that support may be dwindling. Prior to the removal of the Supreme Court Justices, France24 reports that State Department spokesman Ned Price said “a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 7, 2022.” However, AP reports a change in the Biden administration’s stance, citing acting U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis who said the Biden administration “is disturbed that Haiti’s prolonged period of rule by decree continues.” AP further reports that DeLaurentis “urged Haiti’s government to hold overdue legislative elections ‘as soon as possible.’”
The U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Michele Sison, has also expressed “concern about Moise’s unilateral moves,” according to VOA. The dissolution of the parliament in 2020 and the subsequent failure of Moïse to hold legislative elections challenges the country’s democratic norms. Many have seen Moise’s actions as an attempt to gain more power prior to elections scheduled for September 2021. The New Yorker continues that Moïse has established a National Intelligence Agency “whose agents are immune from prosecution.” They report that he has “reinstated the Haitian Army, whose leaders have been accused of massacres and other grave human rights violations.” Attacks on journalists by police and military personnel have also increased, resulting in widespread criticism against Moïse for his lack of intervention.
Moïse and his administration stand by their decisions. When Moïse took office, gang activity was rampant in Haiti. The oligarchs in the country were opposed to prosecuting and dissolving gangs due to corruption in the utility and energy sectors. As a result of a presidential decree, Moïse was able to institute “reforms in the utility sector and purchase of petrol and dismantled 64 of the 100 existing gangs the oligarchs support,” continues AP. Ultimately, Moïse maintains that his opposition is a vocal minority.