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Haiti: Act III, Scene 1? Check! Scene 2? Still in Development

We last reported that we had no idea how Act III of Haitian Politics 101 was going to develop. Haitian Politics 101 refers to the absence of government leadership since parliament sent the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis packing more than three months ago (see this story for a refresher on political developments in Haiti since June).

arton4481 Act III naturally follows Act I and Act II, which featured the Haitian parliament giving a resounding nyet to the two nominees that President René Préval had put to the consideration of the illustrious (sic) body. Act III began at least three weeks ago with the emergence of Ms. Michèle Pierre-Louis, Executive Director of a prominent non-profit, FOKAL, as the President’s last best option. But an interesting thing happened on the way to consideration of the nomination: it appeared stuck in a debate over Pierre-Louis’ moral fitness for the position (for a recap,  click here).

“Who would have thunk it?” as some Haitian-Americans who are deeply immersed in American slang would say. Here was a lady who had distinguished herself in the last 13 years (since 1995) with running a foundation that, among other things, promoted grassroots efforts to stimulate economic opportunities, and learning, education and healthy debates among young Haitian minds. A lady whose credentials had thus far not been the subject of derision. Here was that lady being told that she held to standards of behavior that were deemed inappropriate for the office that she would direct in Port-au-Prince if she got the legislator’s nod.

I am happy to report that the saga got quite a bit more interesting last week. Pierre-Louis won her first hurdle by a landslide vote of the Lower House of Parliament: 61 voted yes, one voted no, and 20 abstained. Incredible, but true: Pierre-Louis and her allies had managed to cut through the noisy fog of feigned moral outrage and secured the votes of the most recalcitrant legislators, the ones who had decisively rejected Préval’s first two nominees. They turned out to not be so bull-headed after all. Hmm…

Surprisingly, members of the political parties who had expressed little reservation initially in supporting Pierre-Louis’ nomination abstained. I don’t frankly quite understand their strategy. Perhaps they have figured out a way to trump the zero-sum game strategy that has long been memorialized in the Haitian psyche: by willingly opting to lose the vote (instead of clumsily trying to win it), they have egged on their opponents and these have in turn opted for a decisive victory, which in principle should leave no doubt as to where political power really lies.

Still, it has been fascinating to follow. And we are thankful that we are now watching Scene 2 unfold, while not really certain of its outcome. Scene 2 uses the Haitian Senate chambers as background prop, for the Senate could very well vote down Pierre-Louis’s nomination. Of the 30 or seats reserved for the Senate, 12 are vacant, due to expired terms (elections to fill these seats should have been held last year, but throw in a dysfunctional electoral board, an international community reluctant to spend any more money on electoral democracy, and a President who couldn’t care much for elections and you have vacant offices).

Most of the sitting Senators have remained affiliated with the political parties under whose banner they ran for office. Should they replicate the behavior of the party colleagues in the House, there appears to be no way for the nomination to go forward. Haitian media reports that of the 18 standing Senators, two have indicated they will oppose the nomination on the basis of their religious beliefs and 10 others said they would join the ranks of the recalcitrants should their party be denied cabinet posts. Who would have thunk it?

This said, I am really looking forward to Scene 3. It’s the scene where the duly approved Prime Minister comes before Parliament with her cabinet-in-waiting to get its blessing on her political strategy. The clincher: should parliament say it does not approve of the agenda, we get back to square 1 (and the zero-sum game as it should really be played).

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported last week that tons of food aid sent urgently to Haiti a few months ago have yet to reach the poor. Haiti’s allies, fearing the worst after riots spread throughout Haiti last March and caused the government’s fall had supplied the relief assistance. Thus the food deficit remains as much a problem today as it was several months ago. Why hasn’t the country been aflame with riots? The answer may be in the fact that people are filling up their bellies with clay or mud pies. The manufacture and sale of this meal has emerged as one of the most profitable business venture in recent history (see this story in the Guardian).

Should Pierre-Louis become Prime Minister, she will have quite a lot on her plate.

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