Haiti’s opposition movement wants a Supreme Court judge to lead a transitional government in the country, arguing that President Jovenel Moise’s term has expired and calling on him to step down.
Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis, a 72-year-old judge, said he had been picked by the opposition to be interim president in a short video released early Monday morning.
According to Haiti’s constitution, presidential terms last five years. Haiti’s Superior Court of Justice and the country’s opposition movement say that Moise, who won a runoff vote in 2016, was due to step down on Sunday.
But Moise argues he gets one more year because he was not actually sworn in until 2017 – a claim backed by both the Organization of American States and US President Joe Biden’s administration.
“A new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends…February 7th, 2022,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week.
Moise has been ruling by decree for over a year and maintains power over the military and the police..
“I have accepted the choice by the opposition and civil society groups to serve my country as interim president. I understand the challenges of the moment but I am ready to serve my country,” Jean-Louis, the opposition pick, said on Monday.
“After a broad consultation between the plural opposition and the militant civil society, Haiti has chosen the oldest judge of the Court of Cassation Maitre Joseph Mecene Jean Louis to become the president to oversee the transition,” opposition leader Andre Michel told CNN.
Michel added that a transitional government would be responsible for forming a sovereign national conference with the participation of civilians and for investigating numerous massacres that have taken place in Haiti.
But Moise on Sunday reiterated his plan to remain in power, and doubled down on his plan to hold a referendum for a new Haitian constitution.
“I will complete my term and make all the necessary reform that needs to be done, we can’t keep running into instability every day. The new constitution will guarantee when a president is elected they can do their job they was elected to do,” Moise said in a defiant speech.
Velina Élysées Charlier, an activist from the anti-corruption organization Nou Pap Dòmi, described the situation as a power grab.
“A president with no mandate talking about referendum is not only authoritarian but delusional. It is very sad where we are as a country but we will continue to fight to save our country from this wannabe dictator who thinks he can install a dictatorship in the country,” said Charlier.
Moise’s term has seen rising poverty, violence and protests that have sometimes paralyzed the island. A former banana exporter, Moise has also been targeted by a corruption investigation into his affairs before becoming President.
The government arrested 23 people on Sunday for “conspiracy against the state,” accordig to Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent.