The unprecedented set of circumstances that marked the end of ex-President Rene Preval’s reign left Haitian constitutional scholars spitting fire, talking about high treason and recommending disciplinary actions against current legislators. Many even argued that Preval left the country without a Constitution since some of the amendments voted by the National Assembly on May 9, 2011 and submitted to the ex president for approval were different from those published the in Le Moniteur, the official government publication.
“It is the mess of the previous administration,” stated President Michel Martelly in an interview. “They tried to trick me,” he continued, “so it is their job to fix the mess the created and I think they have about a week to do so,” he added.
While parliamentary leaders have yet to signal any investigative initiatives, outraged political leaders as well as those in Haitian civil societies called for an investigation to identify perpetrators of the reprehensible acts and punish them. Still, answers were elusive as lawmakers scrambled around trying to pinpoint the source of the constitutional manipulations. Members of the National Assembly’s bureau acknowledged about 10 articles, including those extending the terms of legislators mysteriously appeared in the final version of the bill after legislators removed them from the amendments amid bitter disagreements. Yet, after analyzing the recordings of the last session, Deputy Tolbert Alexis revealed the last minutes of the tape simply vanished. “Someone stole them,” he conceded to the media; hence identifying the actors of the crime proved impossible, Alexis inferred.
The way forward is anything but certain as proposed solutions fall all along the rational spectrum. President Martelly urged leaders to correct their mistakes and after meeting with the presidents of both chambers of parliament, he proclaimed “everyone was cordial and in good spirit.” He later added, “There was no tension at all, we all focused on doing what is best for the country.” Senator Steven Benoit and Deputy Tolbert Alexis, two of the most vocal legislators denouncing the scandal, shared the president’s views and asked for immediate corrections.
However, the situation was not so simple argued many scholars. Senator Andrice Riche demanded complete annulment of the amendments, sentiments echoed by Georges Michel who co-authored the 1987 constitution. In a radio interview, Michel noted the actions of lawmakers amounted to nothing less than high treason citing article 21 and 21.1 of the Haitian Constitution. “The crime of high treason consists in bearing arms in a foreign army against the Republic, serving a foreign nation in a conflict with the Republic, in any official’s stealing state property, entrusted to his management, or any violation of the Constitution by those responsible for enforcing it,” according to article 21.
Political analysts further argued this crisis presented President Martelly a golden opportunity to set the tone of his administration ensuring that the hands of justice came down on lawmakers who violated the Constitution. Such courageous stance, they concluded, would make a compelling case signaling an end to corruption and impunity. Punishment for high treason, as stipulated in article 21.1, “is forced labor for life without commutation of sentence.” After all, reasoned critics, the president ran his campaign promising to rout inherent corruption inhibiting Haiti’s political machine. As he warned potential troublemakers during his inaugural address, the hands of justice would come down hard on them.
However, political expedience might not be in the presidential playbook since he openly sought corrections, rather than annulment. Several news reports indicated that advisors to the president assured him corrections were hardly revolutionary. Nevertheless, many lawyers, namely ex Senator Samuel Madistin warned against such practice, labeling it as falsifying public documents. According to a Radio Metropole article, Madistin stated that on principle, the new president could not promulgate laws signed by his predecessor. The ex senator did however admit both the Executive Branch and National Assembly needed to arrive at a consensus to end the crisis.
Although commonsensical, people familiar to this process asserted annulment of the amendment would not work well for Martelly. His entire agenda depends, to a large extent, on the new law: his military ambitions, promises to extend civic duties to Haitian living abroad, taxation of the Haitian diaspora to fund his educational initiatives. Annulment would require the president to abandon these objectives and wait five years for the 49th legislature to propose new amendments. Madistin also emphasized that Martelly could not sign the document into law, in which case, it would take effect after his term.
While Haitian leaders engage in a desperate search for viable solutions to the constitutional crisis, President Martelly faces his toughest challenges barely a week after taking office. Analysts agreed; any decision the president makes could spark more controversies, but they reasoned that he was unlikely to walk away from key components of his agenda that depended of the new law.