It’s official! The curtain has come down on Act III: Michèle Pierre-Louis is now officially the Honorable Prime Minister of Haiti. It took 146 days for the Honorable Members of the Haitian Parliament and His Excellency René Préval to come to an agreement on a new leader to run the government on a day-to-day basis. But they did it! Just in time for the opening of the chapter on what may turn out to be the biggest challenge facing Haiti this decade: how to rebuild after the devastations wrought by Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike.
But I am getting ahead of myself here. Protocol requires that at the very least I close the chapter on Act III by providing you with an honorable account of what has transpired since Scene 2.
You may recall that Act I and Act II of Haitian Politics 101 ended in a draw: members of the Lower House took a look at Préval’s first two nominees and in quick succession, respectively on May 12 and June 12, sent them packing. Act III took interesting turns after Préval called to the rescue Pierre-Louis, his former small business partner who by that time had logged about 13 years managing a Soros-sponsored foundation, Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL). She agreed.
Short of the customary arguments to justify opposition to her nomination, Préval’s critics called into question her moral standing in Haitian society: can we, they said, allow someone who’s gay to be the leader of this country, regardless of the skills and knowledge that she brings to the position? And they threw down the gauntlet: she will have to tell us publicly and in no uncertain term that the rumors swirling around about her gay lifestyle are nothing but rumors. She did. And another setback was averted after they signed off on letting her through the first hurdle, which in a functioning state enabled by a functional constitution would amount to nothing more than a bureaucratic review of the 6 criteria making her eligible for the post.
But then, another interesting thing happened on the way to the second hurdle, the one that allegedly really mattered, the one in which she spells out her strategy for leading Haiti out of the mess that it is in, and puts together a team that will carry out the strategy: virtually all the political parties who initially praised her nomination threatened to shoot it down should they fail to have a say in the cabinet appointments. With President Préval pushing to retain as many of the outgoing ministers as possible, and allegedly refusing to consider entering into agreements with political factions, negotiations over the composition of the government stalled.
For a while, it appeared that Haiti could very well remain rudderless until Christmas. But then, coup de theatre: key political factions declared that they would stand aside in order to allow the nomination to go forward. And they added: no matter what the strategy, we’ll have her seated in no time. But as soon as there appeared to be a breakthrough, a triumphant President decided that his nominee did not have to be confirmed by either the Lower or the Upper Chamber of Parliament before taking office: without further ado, she could very well move in, assume the position and start managing the government.
“Coup d’état,” howled his critics! We will not relinquish our power to sign off on her government strategy said the Senators sitting in a chamber where 10 zombies, 1 corpse and 1 cripple held an automatic no vote, according to human rights advocate Jean-Claude Bajeux. Mr. Bajeux contended that the Senate failed to adjust to its own reality by holding on to the notion that an “absolute majority vote” equaled 16 votes regardless of whether there were 30 or 18 sitting senators, which is the case presently. In effect, said Bajeux, the spirit of one dead Senator, the ghosts of 10 others who vacated their seats when their term of office expired and no elections were held to fill them, and the uncertain fate of another who has not returned to the seat from which he was kicked out even after a court-ordered reinstatement, made for ridicule. As a result, for the Senate to sign off on Pierre-Louis, she would have to gain a nearly unanimous vote from a chamber where all eligible members (18) would have to be present.
The impasse was finally resolved at 3:30 AM on Friday, September 5, with a little assist from Hurricane Ike which threatened to pack a bigger punch than all of its predecessors (Fay, Gustav and Hanna) combined. But not without a little bit of theater beforehand: Senators voted against Pierre-Louis (15-2) at 2:30 AM before voting for her (16-1) an hour later. Was the first vote a straw vote? Were new rules drawn up in the heat of the moment to avert another governmental crisis? Was the procedure constitutionally-sanctioned? Can the vote be challenged in a court of law? What court? Whose jurisdiction?
Government power was transferred officially to Prime Minister Pierre-Louis in the afternoon of September 5. She takes the reins facing even more challenges than the country did 146 days earlier. If food insecurity was a serious affair then, today it’s a catastrophe of enormous proportion that has grave implications for the viability of Haiti and the ability of its citizens to make a living. In the wake of the hurricane damage, even mud pies may not be enough to satiate the hunger pains that most Haitians will bear for the foreseeable future.
The United States, Haiti’s most important ally, is in the troughs of a near-depression that seriously tests the ability of Haitians overseas to provide support to their brethren back home. The international economic recession is truly global, limiting domestic and foreign capital investment. Yet, Haiti cannot solely rely on international charity which is the sum total of all the bilateral and multilateral assistance agreements it has entered into.
That’s a tall order, even if she is thoughtful, dynamic and visionary. And there’s no guarantee that the new team will emulate her, for in it I cannot discern any General Marshall.