PORT-AU-PRINCE – The fate of the government of Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis hung in the balance Thursday as the Senate debated late into the night about whether or not to dismiss the Prime Minister.
Pierre-Louis had been called before the Senate Thursday. A group of six senators, most from President Rene Preval’s Lespwa party, have been leading calls for her removal. They say her government has been ineffective and they accuse it of mishandling $197 million in savings from discounted oil provided by Venezuela to help with relief efforts in the wake of last year’s hurricanes.
The Prime Minister refused to appear before the Senate after its President, Sen. Kelly Bastien, denied her request for a list of the questions she would be asked as well as the minutes of the Senate meeting on October 22 when the motion for her dismissal was put forth.
Outside the National Assembly a small but noisy group of protesters traded slogans as some called for the Prime Minister to leave and others voiced their support for Pierre-Louis.
Oberson Saint Louis said he was tired of political instability. “Under President Preval we’ve had two governments,” said the 30-year-old Bel Air resident, “every time a government is overthrown, it means more unemployment.”
But Pierre Bertrand Dorismond said it was time for the Prime Minister to go. As an employee of the Ministry of the Interior, Dorismond was angry about the pay cut civil servants received this year.
Bastien refused to comment on the Prime Minister’s performance but said as long as the President nominated a new candidate in the next 48 hours and parliament approved the new Prime Minister quickly, the country would not be adversely affected by the change in government.
“We need someone who is experienced and already known to the international community, not a novice,” the President of the Senate said adding that the candidate had already been chosen.
The candidate is believed to be Jean-Max Bellerive, minister of Planning and External Cooperation.
Professor Robert Fatton, an expert on Haitian politics at the University of Virginia, said Bellerive, who has lots of experience and is known overseas, would reassure the international community which had voiced its concern about the potential for political instability.
Thursday’s debate was a raucous one with proceedings often interrupted by shouting from senators. For several hours, they argued over the agenda of the meeting which had to be modified in light of Pierre-Louis’ absence.
The session was then closed to the media before reporters were allowed back in the late afternoon. Much of the debate had little to do with the performance of the current government but focused instead on legal arguments.
Senators Youri Latortue and Rudy Herivaux said dismissing the Prime Minister would be unconstitutional because parliament is currently in an extraordinary session rather than an ordinary one and as such can only debate matters of general interest, but can’t vote on them.
The person at the center of the storm, Prime Minister Pierre-Louis, has kept a low profile as her opponents in the Senate appeared increasingly assured of her removal in recent days.
Her last public comments came on Tuesday when she defended her government’s achievements over the past year citing the cancellation of much of Haiti’s debt, increased foreign aid and the recent visit by 200 foreign investors led by UN Special Envoy, Bill Clinton. Pierre-Louis also called for three audits into how the post-hurricane relief money was spent. She vowed that the investigations would clear her name.