Lawmakers chose the Senate chief on Sunday to lead a caretaker government that will fill the void left by the end of President Michel Martelly’s term last week and perhaps ease tensions that suspended elections and pushed deeply polarized Haiti into political crisis.
In the early hours of Sunday, Jocelerme Privert was elected as provisional president and sworn in after a plodding session by Haiti’s bicameral legislature. He was formally installed in the afternoon before a crowd of Haitian officials and foreign diplomats.
The veteran politician was one of three candidates vying to lead an interim government that is supposed to last only 120 days.
His new position will be that of a powerbroker who hopefully carries enough weight to quickly smooth political divisions that have left Haiti without a president chosen by voters or a completed Parliament due to the suspended elections. Prime Minister Evans Paul remains in office for now, but Privert and lawmakers are expected to choose a No. 2 official in coming days.
During a speech to lawmakers hours before their final vote, Privert promised that if selected he would lead a caretaker administration that would “foster confidence within all sectors of society,” ensure stability and see that the electoral cycle is concluded “as soon as possible.”
He submitted his resignation letter from the Senate to start his new post.
An initial vote by legislators gave Privert just two votes more than Edgard Leblanc, a former Senate president who was being backed by Martelly’s political faction. But after closed-door negotiations, Privert became interim president after 3 a.m. in a second round of voting that gave him a clear majority of hand-written votes from senators and lower house deputies.
Martelly, who was barred by Haiti’s constitution from seeking a consecutive term as president, left office a week ago without a new elected leader in place. A runoff presidential election was delayed for a second time last month amid violent opposition protests and deep public suspicions about possible vote-rigging in favor of his chosen successor.
Less than 24 hours before Martelly was set to step down Feb. 7, top Haitian leaders managed to cobble together plans for a short-term provisional government and a roadmap to hold the postponed presidential and legislative runoffs. As Senate chief, Privert was a central figure in those talks.
Privert faces an uphill battle in bringing the troubled country and its perennially feuding politicians together. In recent days, some demonstrators took to the capital’s streets to protest against his inclusion as a candidate for provisional president, while others marched to support him.
The elevation to interim leader is a dramatic transformation for Privert, who was jailed for over two years at the start of Haiti’s last provisional government in 2004. Charges that were eventually dismissed alleged the former Cabinet minister orchestrated a massacre of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s opponents during the buildup to an armed rebellion that ousted Aristide. Privert always maintained he was a political prisoner and had no involvement in any killings.
Political remnants of Aristide’s Lavalas movement were elated to have Privert in a position of authority.
“The last time I came to the palace was in 2003 when President Aristide was in power,” said Ores Nixon, a street activist with a Lavalas splinter party who lives in the Bel Air slum in the capital, Port-Au-Prince, told Reuters. “Now look at me, inside the national palace with a glass of champagne, celebrating the inauguration of our President Jocelerme Privert,” he said.
Privert recently told The Associated Press that a new electoral council will be created soon to ensure that the postponed runoff voting is fair and transparent. The accord on the interim government says the vote should be held April 24, but Privert has stressed that the next council is responsible for confirming the date and all other electoral matters.