By Andre Paultre
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Tues. Feb. 9, 2021 (Reuters) – The Haitian opposition on Monday escalated a constitutional crisis by naming a magistrate as an interim leader for the troubled Caribbean country amid a dispute over when the term of President Jovenel Moise ends.
Political tension was exacerbated on Sunday when Moise alleged there had been an attempt to overthrow the government and 23 people were arrested, including a Supreme Court judge and a senior police official.
The opposition dismissed the suggestion of a coup attempt, and said Moise should have stepped down on Feb. 7 when it says his five-year term ended.
The president has vowed to stay in power until February 2022, pointing out that an interim administration had governed for a year after he was elected in a disputed poll that was canceled by the electoral council.
Moise took power in 2017 after fresh elections.
Magistrate Joseph Mecene Jean Louis, 72, said in a video message that he had been chosen by the opposition to replace Moise, who the opposition accuses of being authoritarian and presiding over a crippling economic crisis.
“I declare to accept the choice of the opposition and the civil society to be able to serve my country as the provisional president,” Jean Louis said.
Moise, who has ruled by decree since January last year, has stated he would hand over power to the winner of the September presidential election but would not step down until his term expires in 2022.
The United States, which is the biggest donor to Haiti, appears to have backed Moise’s timeline, saying the new president should take office in February next year.
On Monday, Moise held a cabinet meeting and said on Twitter the government is “taking all measures to ensure the safety of the population”.
Haiti’s executive branch, consisting of the president, prime minister and ministers, published a decree announcing three Supreme Court judges who were approached by the opposition to replace Moise as president are to be retired.
Haiti’s military on Monday said it was concerned about political events but appeared to back Moise, saying it would defend the rule of law and “legitimate authorities democratically elected by the population”.
Earlier in the day, two journalists covering a small protest were shot in the capital and one of them is in a serious condition, according to news outlets and videos uploaded on social media.
Andre Michel, an opposition figure, told Reuters that the opposition would keep up its protests against the government this week.
“The mobilization must continue to force Jovenel Moise to leave office,” Michel said. “We hope that the international community will support our approach.”
(Reporting by Andre Paultre Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Robert Birsel)