Haitian President Michel Martelly is expected to leave office on Sunday, and with no candidate ready to take his place, the political uncertainty has pushed the Caribbean nation to the brink of chaos.
Angry demonstrators have been clashing with security forces in Port-au-Prince, and a gang of protesters in the capital reportedly stoned a man to death on Friday. Witnesses say that the mob targeted the man because he was wearing military-style clothing, and they thought he was a member of one of the vilified paramilitary groups that operated under Haitian dictators François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in past decades.
A runoff election to determine a successor for Martelly was indefinitely postponed in December after irregularities in the first round of voting sparked accusations of an "electoral coup." Martelly's favorite candidate, a banana exporter named Jovenel Moise, swept a third of the vote, while his political rival Jude Celestin won just a quarter. Celestin denounced the early results as a "ridiculous farce."
An independent investigation of the electoral proceedings found that the first round of voting was indeed flawed, and called into question the registration of more than 900,000 party agents who were given access to any polling station of their choosing. Last week, Martelly said he would not "leave the country in limbo," but later backtracked.
"On February 7, I'll leave without any regret, any envy and without any desire to remain in power," the president told reporters at an event celebrating the new Department of Interior headquarters.
Martelly, a musician known as "Sweet Micky," came into power in 2011 after the earthquake that devastated the country the previous year. The disaster, which killed more than 200,000 people and displaced at least 1 million others, turned the world's attention to the country's systemic poverty, fragile infrastructure, and tenuous hold on peace.
Since the 30-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family was overthrown in the late 1980's, Haiti has not been able to establish a stable democracy, and its political system has been marred by military coups and rampant electoral fraud. Martelly has essentially ruled by decree since January 2015, and the country has failed to hold local or parliamentary elections.
"Realistically speaking, we may be looking at some sort of temporary solution until there is a handover to a new elected president," US Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten told Reuters. "Our fear is that we go into a situation that is open-ended."
"In our analysis, that is a dangerous place to go," Merten added.
A power vacuum is the last thing that Haiti needs. The leader of a failed coup attempt in Haiti, Guy Philippe, who is wanted by the United States for smuggling cocaine, went as far as to call for civil war. Philippe said he would not recognize any interim government after Martelly leaves office unless it is representative of Haiti's provinces. He urged his supporters to do the same.
"We are ready for war," Philippe said. "We will divide the country."
A mission from the Organization of American States is reportedly trying to broker a solution, and Jocelerme Privert, the president of the Haitian Senate, said Thursday that the country's National Assembly will "take all necessary measures to fill the vacancy of the presidency."
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