PORT-AU-PRINCE – Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis has been removed by the Senate.

After more than 10 hours of vociferous debate, 18 of the upper chamber’s 29 members, most belonging to President Rene Preval’s Lespwa party, voted to censure Pierre-Louis’ government.

A group of senators led by Rudy Herivaux, Youri Latortue and Evalliere Beauplan walked out the chamber before the vote took place after midnight saying the move was illegal and unconstitutional.

Pierre-Louis had been summoned to the Senate Thursday to answer questions about her government’s performance and its use of hurricane relief aid from Venezuela after a handful of senators initiated a motion to dismiss the Prime Minister last week. But hours before the session was to take place, the Prime Minister sent word to Senate President Kelly Bastien that she would not appear as she felt her fate had already been decided.

Bastien appeared to share that view before yesterday’s session began saying he was looking forward to a smooth transition and that a new Prime Ministerial candidate had already been chosen.

Thursday’s session which began in the early afternoon and ended after midnight was often very heated with senators shouting each other down and several times retreating behind closed doors to continue the debate in private.

Sen. Joseph Lambert who had vowed to quit if Pierre-Louis wasn’t replaced, said her government had failed on every score. “Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis has neither the audacity, the tenacity, nor the creativity required to lead the country,” said the Lespwa senator from the South East Department.

Sen. Andrice Riche defended the Prime Minister noting that she was appointed in the midst of a series of devastating hurricanes last fall. He said she “was being made a scapegoat for 200 hundred years of bad governance.”

But most of the debate revolved around whether or not the Senate had the right to remove the Prime Minister.

Senators opposed to Pierre-Louis’ dismissal insisted that because parliament was in an extraordinary session, the constitution did not allow the Senate to vote on agenda items not put forth by the President. But in the end the nine Senators didn’t have the numbers to stop the vote.

In the lead-up to Thursday’s session the international community had expressed its support for Prime Minister Pierre-Louis and cautioned against throwing Haiti back into a period of political instability.

University of Virginia political scientist and Haiti expert, Robert Fatton, said Pierre-Louis popularity with foreign governments couldn’t make up for the fact that she doesn’t have a political base inside the country.

“What is happening now is connected to the jockeying for office and power for l’apres Preval,” said Fatton. The President, whose second term will end in 2010, will not be running for reelection.

On Friday, the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti lauded Prime Minister Pierre-Louis for helping the country find its footing after last year’s hurricanes and for laying the groundwork for economic renewal.

The UN said the Prime Minister’s removal came at a critical time in the country’s efforts to achieve economic, political and social stability. It urged Haiti’s leaders to work together to install a new government without delay in order to avoid damaging recent efforts to attract foreign investment and create new jobs.

Attention now turns to President Rene Preval who was asked by the Senate to quickly nominate a new Prime Minister.

Jean-Max Bellerive is widely thought to be Preval’s choice. The Minister of Planning and External Cooperation is a known figure and his appointment would calm the international communities fears, said Fatton.

This is the second time parliament has dismissed a government since President Preval was elected to a second term in 2006. In April of last year, following food riots, the Senate voted to remove Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis. Haiti was left without a Prime Minister until September when Pierre-Louis and her cabinet were installed.

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