By Gessika Thomas and Brian Ellsworth
(Reuters) – Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Monday called for renewed efforts to organize elections in the Caribbean nation as his adversaries push for the creation of a transition government to tackle escalating gang violence.
Henry’s critics say he no longer has legitimacy as a leader because Monday marks the end of the term of President Jovenel Moise, who designated him prime minister shortly before his July assassination that created a political vacuum.
Henry’s allies say the prime minister can only be removed by parliament, which is not functioning because legislators’ terms have expired. They add that previous prime ministers have stayed on past the terms of the presidents who designated them.
In a speech on Monday, Henry said elections were the only solution to the political impasse and rejected the idea that he hand over power to a two-year interim government – a plan proposed by a group known as the Montana Accord.
“We are organizing good elections so that we can quickly hand over the direction of the country to the people of Haiti who have the right to choose freely,” he said.
“No one has the authority or the right to meet at a hotel or abroad to decide in small committees who to be president or prime minister. All this is a distraction.”
The Montana Accord, which includes economists, journalists, and former politicians, derives its name from a hotel of the same name where the group met to discuss a political platform.
The group has chosen economist Fritz Jean as the leader of a proposed transition government.
Jean in an interview on Friday said elections are currently impossible because gangs control vast portions of the country’s territory, making participation so difficult that any vote would lack legitimacy and could even empower delinquent groups.
The streets of Haiti were unusually quiet on Monday, with businesses and schools closed due to concerns of demonstrations against Henry. Protests turned out to be scattered and small.
Henry did not provide a time-frame for holding general elections, which would first require the government naming an elections council.
(Reporting by Gessika Thomas in Fort Lauderdale and Brian Ellsworth in Miami, additional reporting by Ralph Tedy Erold in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)