Haiti's president Michel Martelly reached a deal with lawmakers on Monday to temper an escalating political crisis over long-overdue legislative and municipal elections.
The agreement, which was signed under increasing pressure from the opposition and from the international community, will extend the mandate of members of parliament to several months after their terms were set to expire on January 12. As part of the deal, the government has also pledged to hold legislative elections by April 2015, and to form a new electoral council.
Without the agreement, which extends lower house deputies' terms until April 24 and senators' terms to September 9, a political vacuum would have opened up in Haiti next month, forcing the president to rule by decree.
Angry crowds of opposition demonstrators have staged mass protests in recent weeks in anticipation of this scenario which would see the country plunging into a form of governance closely resembling a dictatorship.
As well as still recovering from the earthquake that destroyed much of the country in 2010, Haiti has been mired in a tense political crisis over the government's failure to hold long-overdue elections. Since Martelly's appointment in 2011, senate elections and municipal polls have been postponed repeatedly over political disputes between the government and the opposition.
On the municipal level, mayors' mandates ran out in the summer of 2012, leaving towns to be governed by government-nominated "interim executive officers" instead of democratically elected officials.
Haiti has been rocked by violent anti-government protests since December, with angry crowds taking to the streets to demand a change of leadership. On December 12, protesters clashed with UN peacekeepers, hours before Martelly accepted Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe's resignation.
As part of Monday's agreement, Haiti's parliament said it would confirm the appointment of former radio journalist Evans Paul as the country's new prime minister. Paul, a candidate in the 2006 presidential election and former mayor of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, was nominated by Martelly for the role on Christmas Day.
This week, Paul told French radio station RFI that the deal as an important breakthrough.
"We will do everything in our power to form a consensus government and to properly equip the country so it can hold democratic elections," he said.
But with the opposition and the government still at odds, and the impending expirations dates of lawmakers' terms, the speed with which the Senate signs off on the new deal will be crucial in leading the country out of the current political crisis.
Meanwhile, opposition protests are still being staged in Port-au-Prince, where demonstrators can be heard chanting, "Whatever you think, Martelly has to go!"
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: __@meloboucho