claude joseph rene sylvestre
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph (left) and Haiti's former president of Haiti's Cour de Cassation Rene Sylvestre (left) who died from COVID-19 in June.

As Haitians worldwide awoke to the news of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination Wednesday morning, some expressed consternation about the process of naming a successor. 

“Already there’s a succession discussion happening, and I think that’s going to bring about more violence as well,” said Charles-Edouard Denis, a business owner based in Petionville. “I thought these days were behind us.” 

The line of succession to succeed Moise, who was assassinated at his home in Pelerin, Port-au-Prince by unidentified gunmen, is unclear. 

Supreme Court president dead from COVID

The president of Haiti’s Cour de Cassation, Haiti’s equivalent to the Supreme Court, would be next in the order of succession, but the last person to hold that position, Rene Sylvestre, died of COVID-19 last month, according to media reports. 

The role has since been left vacant.

Controversial Constitution

Haiti’s current 1987 constitution states that the vice president of the court, or the next-highest official on the court, would be temporarily granted the powers of the presidency. However, the 1987 Constitution states that the National Assembly needs to confirm the appointment. 

Haiti’s parliament was dissolved in January 2020, and Moise has ruled by executive decree since then. 

Currently in effect is a 2012 amendment to the 1987 Constitution, stating that the prime minister assumes the role of the presidency in conjunction with the council of ministers following the death of a sitting president. The document also states that if there is a vacancy from “from the fourth year of the presidential mandate,” the National Assembly will meet to elect a provisional president.

Moise began his five-year term in 2017 following a controversial election the previous year.

Haiti’s current constitution itself has been called into question, with the Moise administration planning to hold a referendum on a new constitution in September. Haiti’s government published a draft constitution earlier this year that has not yet been approved. That draft was due for a vote via referendum in September.

Country in between prime ministers

On July 5, Moise announced that he was appointing a new prime minister, Ariel Henry. However, current interim prime minister Claude Joseph has said in media reports that he is currently running the country in the wake of Moise’s death. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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