By Jacqueline Charles
Haiti’s dysfunctional Senate just grew by one.
Former Senate President Simon Desras who was dismissed last month along with nine other senators when the term of a second tier of the 30-member chamber expired along with that of the entire 99-member lower house of Deputies, has been reinstated by a Haitian court.
“I won,” said Desras.
The National Palace informed Desras last month that his senatorial mandate had expired. But the lawmaker, who was elected in 2011 in a special election, had always maintained that his mandate was for six years, not four.
On Tuesday, a Haitian court overruled the Palace, saying Desras’ term expires in September 2017.
“Now it’s not just me asking them to reinstate me, but I have the law on my side,” he told the Miami Herald.
While Desras’ reinstatement brings the number of Senators to 11, it won’t have an impact on President Michel Martelly’s one-man rule. The former singer-turned-president has been ruling by decree since parliament was rendered dysfunctional on Jan. 12.
Desras, however, says he hopes his presence will re-energize the chamber, which may not be able to pass any laws but can speak out on what’s happening in Haiti, which is wrestling with an economic and political crisis triggered by high foreign debt and falling oil prices, and repeatedly delayed legislative and local elections.
The country owes Venezuela more than $1.6 billion as part of its preferential PetroCaribe oil program, and the drop in global oil prices isn’t helping.
On Tuesday, transportation unions and opposition groups temporarily lifted a two-day fuel strike that had paralyzed the capital and other major cities on Monday and Tuesday. It was the second time in a week that such a strike, which forced the closure of schools and businesses, had been successfully launched.
“Today there is a silence over what’s happening in the country,” Desras said. “The agronomy students have been protesting over at the Agriculture Ministry and no one has spoken out on their behalf; there was a two-day gas strike and no one in the Senate said anything.”
In an appeal for calm, Prime Minister Evans Paul said the government, which had reduced gasoline and diesel by 32 cents and 21 cents respectively, couldn’t drop costs anymore because Haiti didn’t produce fuel.
Rather than calm boiling tensions, Paul’s comments fueled further outrage as protesters and government opponents criticized the size of his recently installed 37-member cabinet, and government expenditures such as foreign trips and vehicles.
“They say they can’t drop the prices of oil, but they can do waste,” said Desras. “Nothing is functioning today in the country. The economy isn’t working, the politics isn’t working, parliament isn’t working. The country isn’t being governed.”
Also on Tuesday, the president of the provisional electoral council, which is tasked with organizing elections, announced that they were looking to hold legislative elections as early as July with runoffs on Oct. 25 along with the presidential election, constitutionally due this year. Mayors and other local officials would be elected in January 2016, Pierre-Louis Opont said during a news conference. The dates, he said, would be finalized after consultations with the political parties.