By Jacqueline Charles
An upbeat and smiling Jocelerme Privert walked into the waiting room of the presidential suite Tuesday offering pleasantries and looking like anything but a man at the end of a presidency.
While the day was supposed to be the end of a transitional government, capped at 120 days under a Feb. 5 political agreement, it was being treated like any other day by Privert. Last week, he met with different sectors of Haitian society discussing what he had done since his Feb. 14 election to the presidency by parliament, but this week he went back to presidential duties, dropping in on a radio station’s celebration, making a surprise visit to the general hospital where residents have been on strike for three months, and attending a celebration in the Grande Anse Department.
“I was born the first of February, and I regard today like the first of February,” Privert said in a Miami Herald interview. “I was elected provisional president the 14th of February, and I started my day today as if it were the 14th of February.”
Privert’s calm and composed demeanor amid Haiti’s political uncertainty was, however, a sharp contrast to the wait-and-see stance that the country has taken. Late Tuesday, a divided parliament still had not voted on whether to prolong his presidency despite the accord’s deadline. A note being circulated on social media said that leaders of both chambers were in negotiations over Privert’s fate.
That lack of a decisiveness is one more dysfunction and uncertainty that Haiti can ill afford, foreign diplomats say. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern for the situation in Haiti and made clear that the people of Haiti deserve a chance to express their will and elect a president without further delay.
“We had genuinely hoped that the Feb. 5 agreement would meet all of its elements and be over today,” a U.S. government official said.
While the U.S. has refused to take a position on the legal interpretation of the political accord, it has called on the parliament to determine the fate of governance in the country.
“We believe that the National Assembly needs to take appropriate decisions to ensure that governance is maintained and the election is completed,” the official said. “You don’t need the uncertainty of what could still happen today or tomorrow.”
Privert says that his fate is in the hands of parliament. While he acknowledges that two of the dates in the accord were not achieved — an April 24 re-run and the swearing-in of a new president on May 14 — Privert said the agreement’s main objective is still yet to be satisfied: the completing of elections.
He considered Tuesday, June 14, “a river” that Haiti has to cross.
“June 14 is a choice we have to make,” he added. “Chaos and anarchy, the pillaging of public funds … assassinations and stability. Are we staying in the hole, or are we crossing together to the other side of the river?”
Recalling the context in which he was elected president by his fellow parliamentarians, he said he has improved the country.
“The country was in the grip of anarchy and chaos,” he said. “My mission was to assure the return to calm, political stability, social peace. Today, everyone is conscious that those objectives have been completed. The country is quieter, we are working toward elections, we have a peaceful environment. Who has [an] interest to see the country going back to instability?”
As the international community worries that the crisis could evolve into something disruptive and even violent, opponents of Privert, led by former Prime Minister Evans Paul, continued to call for Privert to return the presidential sash. An anti-Privert march failed to get a lot of supporters on Tuesday. A new one was announced for Thursday. Meanwhile, a pro-Privert march attracted a few hundred protesters.
As for Paul, Privert said, “If I am provisional president today, it’s because there were a group of people who didn’t assume their responsibilities. Today, he has neither the morality nor the credibility or integrity to discuss that. I am correcting their mistakes.”
Though Privert said he would leave if voted out by parliament, he has indicated that he would stay until a decision is made. That worries some diplomats who say Haiti doesn’t need a situation with a president whose mandate is contested by half of the parliament, which can’t itself come to a decision