PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- Haiti's president, now ruling without most
of parliament, is paving the way for new elections and not trying to establish
a dictatorship, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday.
"This situation is going towards elections for the renewal of the parliament
and also for mayors and other local officials," Fritz Longchamp told Reuters
in an interview.
Longchamp spoke a week after the U.N. Security Council called on Haiti's
leaders to overcome differences and work towards elections.
"The president in Haiti is the head of state, he has the responsibility
oversee the functioning of all the institutions, whether it's parliament or what
not," he said.
Jan. 11, President Rene Preval announced the terms of most legislators
expired, citing a 1995 electoral law that set the end of term for all of the
Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate as the second Monday in
But legislators contested Preval's decision since no new officials had
elected to take their places. Under the electoral law cited by Preval, only
nine senators serving six-year terms would remain out of the entire
Preval's speech -- and his later replacement of 23 mayors across Haiti
sparked unrest in the impoverished country and prompted the U.N. Security
Council's Feb. 3 recommendation.
Jan. 22, four U.S. senators submitted a resolution to Congress saying Preval
had "seized dictatorial powers by effectively dissolving Haiti's parliament and
announcing he will rule by decree."
A Feb. 5 report by members of Congress led by New York Republican
Benjamin Gilman expressed concern after a visit to Haiti about the
"dissolution of parliament," which the report said had left "a dangerous
vacuum in the balance of power."
"You can interpret whatever politics that might be behind it the way you
want, but to use this case to say that Rene Preval is putting together a
dictatorship in Haiti with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, I say this is unfair,"
Haiti returned to democratic rule in 1994 when the United States ended
three-year dictatorship and restored Aristide, its first freely elected
president. Preval, an Aristide protege, succeeded the former priest as
president in 1996.
Longchamp said Preval was trying to overcome Haiti's long government
impasse, which resulted from a conflict over disputed 1997 legislative
elections between the executive branch and the opposition Organization of
People in Struggle party, which held a majority in parliament.
"What other way do you want him to rule? There is a country, there are
nine senators, and there is a president who has the constitutional
responsibility of seeing to the stability of the country," he said.
Longchamp said Preval's government was not responsible for the vacuum in
parliament. Haiti has not had a prime minister since Rosny Smarth resigned
in June 1997, with parliament rejecting Preval's first three nominations for the
Only 5 percent of eligible voters participated in the April 1997 vote for
municipal and legislative offices. And fraud allegations prevented the winners
from taking their seats.
Longchamp said Prime Minister-designate Jacques Edouard Alexis, Preval's
most recent nominee, was officially prime minister although his policy
program had not been set before lawmakers for a vote. Legislators say
Alexis cannot take office until his program is approved by parliament.
"He is going to be a care-taker government, until such time as there is
approved policy program," Longchamp said.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.