Leading Haitian lawmakers moved Sunday to set up a new provisional government to run the country while ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide remains in exile.
They called it a constitutional solution to resolve temporarily the crisis that has gripped this poverty-stricken nation since a military coup Sept. 30 sent Aristide fleeing for his life.
The formula is designed to restore a degree of normalcy to daily life while leaving open the hotly controversial question here of whether Aristide should resume his office.
This approach apparently would be acceptable to both the Organization of American States, which has demanded restoration of Aristide to the presidency, and the Haitian army, which says his return is non-negotiable.
At best, however, the lawmakers' initiative appeared to be only an interim step to resolving the worst crisis in Haiti since the rise to power of Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier in 1957, the start of a 30-year family dictatorship.
"With or without Aristide, we are entering a new era of turbulence in Haiti," said a veteran politician who asked not to be identified.
Diplomatic sources said they expect the legislature to name an interim president to take over control of the government during the absence of Aristide.
Although Aristide won the first popular election in a landslide last December, he has antagonized the legislature, political party leaders and the business community while still retaining the ardent backing of the working poor.
In addition, Aristide's startling remarks two days before the coup in praise of "necklace" murders by his supporters have aroused concerns about his respect for human rights.
An eight-nation OAS delegation met twice with the coup leader, Gen. Raoul Cedras, as well as with ministers from Aristide's government-in-hiding, during two days of discussions here.
The OAS team delivered an ultimatum to Cedras to restore Aristide to office or face economic and diplomatic quarantine. The team members left Saturday evening, however, without a solution and agreed to keep talking with the Haitians about a way out of the crisis without imposing sanctions on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Longtime observers said Cedras is more flexible than other hard-line army elements that refused to consider the return of Aristide. But Cedras is under pressure from lower-ranking officers and enlisted men to take a tough stand on the issue, the observers said.
Speaking of the OAS delegation, a veteran Haitian politician said: "They came in with certainties and went back with doubts and questions."
Under one plan that has wide backing in both chambers of the National Assembly, Aristide's handpicked prime minister would be replaced.
The prime minister, Rene Preval, has been in hiding since the military coup, reportedly fearing for his life if he appears in public.
Preval twice failed to respond to the summons of a parliamentary "crisis committee," and the lawmakers decided to invoke a provision of the 1987 constitution that provides for replacement of the prime minister if he is prevented from carrying out the duties of his office.
If the plan goes through in the next day or so, a provisional prime minister would be named with power to appoint new Cabinet ministers.
The National Assembly tried last August to get rid of Preval, regarded by most lawmakers as only a puppet for Aristide, through a vote of no-confidence in the government.
A mob of pro-Aristide demonstrators armed with gasoline and tires used in "necklacing" attacks intimidated the lawmakers, however, and they adjourned without acting.
Most stores, banks and other businesses have been closed since the coup began with mass killings by the army of pro-Aristide demonstrators in the early days of military rule. A dusk-to-dawn curfew also has been imposed, and public meetings have been forbidden.
The military junta, however, hoped to encourage a return to normalcy starting today, although the airport remains closed to commercial traffic and many radio stations have been forced off the air.
Even while the legislators discussed a possible solution to the crisis, for example, heavily armed soldiers entered the National Assembly building, and an armored vehicle with a long-barreled cannon patrolled outside in a stark reminder of the army's power.
Serge Gilles, a leading Socialist member of the Senate, said the lawmakers are going to consult with representatives of churches, labor unions and other groups before making a final decision on dealing with the vacuum in power.
"We are looking for consensus," he told reporters. Senate President Dejean Belezaire said the crisis committee that he heads will proceed methodically toward a solution.
"I am a slow man," he said. "Step by step, that's how we'll go."