MEXICO & THE AMERICAS

Haitian prime minister quits under pressure; election crisis may loom

Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe quits amid violent protests and a commission's call for his resignation

Amid a deepening political crisis, international pressure and violent domestic unrest, Haiti’s prime minister announced his resignation Sunday, possibly clearing the way for overdue elections.

The forced resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe may appease a whirlwind of critics at home and abroad, but it might not be enough to rescue the hemisphere’s poorest nation from political collapse.

President Michel Martelly will now have to appoint a new government that can oversee legislative and municipal elections delayed by more than three years.

If elections are not held by Jan. 12, when some legislators’ terms end, parliament will be forced to shut down, allowing Martelly to rule by decree -- a development that would be seen by many as a return to the days of dictatorship that dominated much of Haiti’s history.

In a nation still recovering from a calamitous earthquake five years ago next month, in which more than a quarter of a million people were killed, angry demonstrations demanding the resignations of both Martelly and Lamothe have spread from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to other Haitian cities.

Despite modest economic growth in recent years, the government is seen by ordinary Haitians as corrupt and self-serving.

One man was reported shot to death in protests near the ruins of the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince last week, while other demonstrators were overcome by tear gas fired by riot police. United Nations peacekeepers have also opened fire on demonstrators in at least one incident currently under investigation.

Lamothe, in a resignation speech broadcast on television early Sunday, said that he was proud of his administration and that Haiti had been put on a positive course.

"I am leaving the post of prime minister,” Lamothe, 42, said, “with a feeling of accomplishment." A close ally of Martelly and sometimes mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, Lamothe added that he was stepping down with the hope that the move would “unblock the political crisis.”

A special presidential commission last week had recommended that Lamothe be removed as part of a series of measures aimed at easing mounting tensions.

Yet replacing him could open up another period of conflict and instability. Parliament must approve Martelly’s choice, and the Jan. 12 dissolution date provides a tight deadline. It took Martelly three choices and several months to get Lamothe approved in 2012.

The political impasse has threatened Haiti’s slow recovery and ability to attract foreign investment. Martelly has blamed the delay in elections on opposition senators, who in turn contend that election legislation unfairly favors government candidates.

U.S. officials have been active in attempting to help defuse the crisis. U.S. State Department officials met with Haitian leaders in Haiti last week, Reuters reported. Special Haiti Envoy Bill Clinton, the former president, defended Lamothe and Martelly in a recent interview with the Miami Herald.

“The one thing that Haiti doesn't want to get out of this process is looking like 'OK, we had four great years, we were growing like crazy so you think we'll throw it all away and go back to the old ways,’” he told the paper. “It won't be good for the country."

That apparent support for the Haitian administration has angered many ordinary citizens, giving the current wave of protests an anti-American tinge.

For more news out of Mexico, Latin America, follow @TracyKWilkinson

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:36 p.m.: This post has been updated throughout with a Times staff-written version, with added background, quotes.

The original version of this post was published at 1:40 a.m.

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