By JAMES C. McKINLEY JR.
Haiti -- The streets of this impoverished capital buzzed with the normal
hubbub of life Thursday, but inside the corridors of power opposition leaders were accusing
the president of trying to establish a virtual dictatorship. The president insisted he was trying to build
So far, there
has been little outcry here over President Rene Preval's decision on Monday
the Parliament and form a government by decree. The only objections have come from some
businessmen and opposition politicians.
for prime minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis, promised to form a government
hold parliamentary elections as soon as possible. But some Haitians said they feared they were
witnessing the unraveling of the country's fragile democracy, this time not through a military coup but
through the political maneuvering of Preval and his mentor, the former president, Jean-Bertrand
should sit down and talk with these parliamentarians so that this thing
explode," said a clerk in a downtown business, echoing the views of many and insisting on
anonymity. "What's happening now is not good for anybody."
have paralyzed the government since June 1997, when Prime Minister Rosny
Smarth resigned to protest the elections held that April.
Since then, parliamentary
leaders have rejected three of Preval's nominees for prime minister. The
fourth, Alexis, a former education minister, was approved last year by both houses, but was required
to present his program and Cabinet for approval before being sworn in. Opposition leaders
threatened to reject him unless they were given key Cabinet positions.
As the end of
the year approached, the legislators passed a law extending their terms
after they failed
to reach an agreement with the president on the makeup of an election committee and an election
But Preval scotched
that plan on Monday. Saying he was upholding the constitution, he announced
he did not have the authority to extend the lawmakers' terms. He also said Alexis had already been
approved and could form a government even though a new Parliament had yet to be elected.
"We are trying
to build something called democracy," Preval said. "Democracy, above all,
respect for the rules of the game. We can't every time a problem arises change the rules of the game
in order to solve the problem."
As a practical
matter, however, Preval's move dashed the opposition's hope that it would
some important Cabinet positions. It also meant that the political faction supporting Preval and
Aristide will put together the committee to oversee the next elections without influence from other
of Preval have accused him of what amounts to a bloodless coup, saying
eliminated the legislature's influence with a stroke of the pen. "Preval has staged a coup d'etat to
establish a dictatorship," Myrlande Manigat, a constitutional law expert, told The Associated Press.
"There are many kinds of coups -- not only military."
Others have charged
that Preval is laying the groundwork for Aristide to run for President
hoping to control the electoral committee and thus weaken the chance that factions opposed to
Aristide might gain a parliamentary majority. They say Preval delayed holding elections in order to
bypass the Parliament.
officials insist Preval is only trying to break a political deadlock that
has driven the
country deeper into poverty. Despite four years of democracy, Haiti remains the poorest country in
the Western Hemisphere. The country has not had a budget for two years. Millions of dollars in
foreign aid have been placed on indefinite hold.
"There is a general
feeling among the people that this Parliament has been responsible for
gridlock as opposed to seeing to the well-being of the country," the foreign minister, Fritz
"We have serious
problems in Haiti, economic and social," he added. "The only way we can
these problems is to have a government that has a majority in Parliament."
suggestions that the president was trying to form a strongman government.
he trying to become a dictator by observing the law?" he said.
officials here said the root of the current crisis was a simple power struggle
two wings of what was once Aristide's Lavalas movement: oneled by Aristide, called the Lavalas
Family, and the other, the Organization of the People in Struggle, which dominates the Parliament.
The opposition fears that if Aristide is returned to power, Haiti will become a dictatorship.
For the moment,
Preval's maneuvering appears to have paid off. Few people among Haiti's
downtrodden lower classes, the bulk of Aristide's supporters, are springing to Parliament's defense.
The Parliament has angered some people by passing an austere economic program backed by
international lenders that calls for about 5,000 state employees to be laid off.
Preval can count on the loyalty of the 6,000-member police force that replaced
when Aristide abolished the military in 1994. Some top commanders are Aristide supporters and
Alexis, as prime minister, will preside over the National Police Commission that controls the force.
It is a measure
of the neutrality of the new police force that there has been no reprisal
shooting on Tuesday of Preval's sister, Marie-Claude Calvin, who was wounded when gunmen
attacked her car.
is following the theory that the attack was politically motivated, perhaps
hoping to stir up violence in the wake of Preval's announcement. Under past right-wing governments,
retribution killings would have been automatic, officials said.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company