Haiti Takes More Steps to End Political Standoff

Under pressure from an independent commission created President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe recently stepped down from his position.

(Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe speaks during an interview with Associated Press in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP Photo)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti was in a state of political flux following the resignation over the weekend of the country's prime minister because of an ongoing stalemate with opposition lawmakers in the Senate.

President Michel Martelly has not yet announced who he will nominate to replace Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to run the government of the troubled country, and a presidential spokesman, Lucien Juras, declined in a news conference Monday to name the candidates.

Juras did say, however, that Martelly was addressing the recommendations of an independent commission created by the president to end the impasse over delayed legislative elections.

The recommendations he was carrying out included seeking the resignation of the nine members of the country's electoral council and the release of prisoners who government opponents have said were improperly jailed for political reasons, an allegation the president denies.

Martelly said late last week that he accepted the recommendations of the commission, which include the resignation of Lamothe, who announced he was stepping down early Sunday.

"I made the ultimate sacrifice for the country to move forward and to respect the findings of an independent commission set up by president," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I always said I would be part of the solution to the problem and not part of the problem itself and I kept my word."

Lamothe predicted it would be difficult to win approval from the Senate and Chamber of Deputies for his replacement, noting that it typically takes about 90 days to approve a prime minister and Cabinet in the politically fractious country.

Lamothe said his 31-month tenure was actually the longest for a prime minister in Haiti and said the country had made significant gains, particularly considering the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the capital.

Foreign investment and school enrollment both increased, security has improved and most of the encampments that sprung up for the hundreds of thousands left homeless by the earthquake are now gone.

"The results are there and they are undeniable," he said.

But it was the political standoff with parliament that led to his resignation. Martelly was supposed to call elections in 2011 for a majority of Senate seats, the entire Chamber of Deputies and local offices.

But several opposition senators used parliamentary procedure to prevent a vote authorizing the election while orchestrating a series of protests in the capital to call for the president to resign. Another protest was planned for Tuesday despite the resignation of Lamothe and release of some prisoners jailed during the demonstrations.

"We are not making progress with Martelly. He has to resign," said Andre Michel, the leader of one of the parties that make up the opposition, who has accused the president of trying to stack the electoral council with supporters and undermine the Constitution.

On Jan. 12, the terms of the current Senate will expire and the president can sign a decree that will enable the country to hold the elections in the first half of the year, Lamothe said.

Martelly is to leave office in 2016 after a presidential election scheduled for later next year.

The departing prime minister said he has no plans to run for president of Haiti.

"I gave it my soul," he said. "I gave everything I had to move this country forward and I hope the people realize that and I hope that I was able to make a small difference in Haiti's progress."


Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

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