PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The international community appealed for dialogue and calm in Haiti on Saturday after a presidential and legislative runoff was put on hold indefinitely.
The United Nations, international election observers and foreign governments urged the volatile Caribbean country’s feuding political actors to negotiate a solution to an electoral impasse that threatens to soon become a constitutional crisis.
Haiti’s charter requires a new government to take power Feb. 7, but election authorities say there is now no chance the country will meet that deadline to pick the next president. It is unclear whether an interim government will be set up, or another solution may be reached.
In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Haitians to work toward “peaceful completion of the electoral process without delay.”
Government officials have not addressed the impasse publicly since Friday afternoon, when the Provisional Electoral Council postponed the runoff a second time without naming a new date for the vote.
The splintering council cited what it called a “deteriorating security environment” to explain its decision, but there has also been widespread opposition to the vote on the part of civil society. The opposition presidential candidate had promised to boycott the runoff.
A day after protesters set fires and smashed windows, a few thousand anti-government demonstrators again took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on Saturday. Young men threw rocks and lit tire barricades on fire downtown, sending black smoke billowing into the air. Many called for new elections and the immediate removal of President Michel Martelly.
“He cannot stay a second longer,” said Frantzo Nepha, an unemployed 24-year-old.
Ruling party candidate Jovenel Moise said he was mystified that electoral authorities would again postpone the runoff without immediately providing a new date. The vote was originally supposed to be held Dec. 27.
Moise, whose top finish in the first round prompted allegations of vote-rigging, told reporters he believes he is the people’s choice and called for the runoff to be held soon and peacefully.
“Our generation has a responsibility to show other countries in the world that we are a civilized nation,” he said.
Many Haitians are exasperated by the political infighting and disruptive protests.
“It seems like politicians want to drag the Haitian people backward,” said Karine Fenelon, as she picked out oranges at a roadside fruit stall.
Some blame the election mess on the international community and especially Washington, which they believe is far too involved in Haitian affairs.
“All of these so-called friends of Haiti are stopping us from moving forward,” mechanic Patrick Augustin said. “Martelly’s government is always taking dictation from the U.S.”