Exclusive: Haiti's Moise plans to use new powers to overhaul constitution


  • World
  • Friday, 17 Jan 2020

FILE PHOTO: Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview with Reuters at the National Palace of Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Valerie Baeriswyl

HAVANA (Reuters) - Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, who began ruling by decree this week, wants to use his new power to overhaul the constitution in an attempt to break a "decades-long cycle of political crises," a planned presidential statement seen by Reuters shows.

"We will work with all political actors and our international partners to draft constitutional reforms to ensure a widely acceptable, workable, democratic balance of power which will then be put to the Haitian people in a referendum," reads the statement, due to be released early on Friday according to a source close to Moise.

The statement does not specify the precise changes sought but Moise is likely aiming to strengthen the presidency which was weakened in Haiti's 1987 Magna Carta due to a mistrust of strong figureheads in the wake of the Duvalier family dictatorship.

Critics say the changes went too far, delivering too much power to parliament and have made it hard to govern. Haiti has had 15 presidents in the past 33 years.

In the statement, Moise calls for the formation of a unity government to propose constitutional changes "to address flaws in the 1987 text". These have fostered political instability that has prevented development in the poorest country in the Americas, he says.

The president aims to get the new constitution drafted within three months of being started, the source said, and voted on in a referendum by year-end.

The presidency's office confirmed the veracity of the statement.

Moise has flagged his desire to amend the constitution before but until this week has not had the power to do so. It is the first time a timetable for reform has been laid out.

NO SILVER BULLET

There is wide agreement among politicians and analysts in Haiti on the need for constitutional reform, even if they do not depict it as a "silver bullet" for the country's problems.

"The constitution has been amended a few times already but the structure simply does not give the needed results, it is one of the causes of the political instability in this country," said one Haiti-based western diplomat.

"This is a historic opportunity where all the political class agrees on the need for change."

The diplomat said one necessary change to foster greater political stability and save money was to institute elections every five years rather than every two years.

Yet many opposition politicians do not think Moise, who has faced fierce anti-government protests over graft allegations, galloping inflation and crime over the past year, is the right person to lead constitutional reform and are unlikely to join a unity government.

"It is illusory to believe a president who is rejected by the people could change the constitution," said Andre Michel, a politician with the opposition Democratic and Popular Sector.

"We are all for a new constitution but it is up to a transition government to do it."

The president can try to carry out constitutional reform without broad backing given he started ruling by decree this week but it could lack legitimacy and spark new unrest.

The mandate of all deputies and most senators expired at the start of the week and there were no successors as parliament failed to approve an electoral law last year necessary for holding legislative elections.

In the statement, Moise said he was governing by executive order "reluctantly, knowing this is not how a thriving and fair democracy should function".

But his camp and others in the international community have made it clear they see an opportunity to get around what they see as parliament's "obstructionism" and get things done.

It is not without precedent. Both his immediate predecessor Michel Martelly and before that Rene Preval ruled for a while by decree.

"We have a window of opportunity," the presidential statement reads. "I want to take it to fix what has been broken in the Haitian system for far too long and finally allow us to move forward."

The source close to Moise said he did not aim to rule without a parliament until the end of his term. Instead he hoped to hold legislative elections in order to reinstate parliament by year-end.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Andre Paultre in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)


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