April 21, 2011 / 6:58 PM / in 8 years

Haiti's Martelly must win parliament to his policies

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly has a popular mandate and U.S. support to rebuild his earthquake-ravaged nation but he will have to win over an opposition-dominated parliament to back his policies, politicians and analysts said on Thursday.

President-elect Michel Martelly speaks during an interview with Reuters in Port-au-Prince April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Swoan Parker

Political cohabitation remains a major governance challenge in this impoverished country with a history of coups, corruption and fractured politics, and an uncooperative or divided parliament has stymied Haitian rulers in the past.

Definitive results from last month’s presidential run-off in the Caribbean nation confirmed the former pop star’s already announced victory over Mirlande Manigat, giving him 67.57 percent of the vote.

Final election results were released in Port-au-Prince late on Wednesday after Martelly, on a visit to Washington, received a strong endorsement from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She said the United States would support Haiti “all the way” in recovering from a crippling 2010 earthquake.

While Martelly, an irreverent 50-year-old musician with no previous government experience, swept the presidential vote last month, his Repons Peyizan party gained only three seats in the 99-member Chamber of Deputies and none in the Senate.

Outgoing President Rene Preval’s INITE coalition, whose own candidate was dropped from the presidential run-off following U.S.-led pressure over fraud allegations, has a majority in the 30-seat Senate with 17 senators after the elections.

INITE will also dominate the lower chamber, with at least 46 deputies, and can count on the support of more than 20 allies, making it a force that could block measures backed by the president.

“President Martelly has the duty and the obligation to sit down with us to decide who will be in the government and who will be prime minister,” INITE’s national coordinator Joseph Lambert told Reuters. “There is nothing he can pass in parliament without our agreement.”

SHARED PRIORITIES

Martelly, who is due to take over from Preval on May 14, has said he will seek to cooperate with parliament to implement urgent priorities like creating jobs and housing for more than 600,000 quake survivors still living in tent camps.

He has promised to guarantee free primary education, decentralize the economy, modernize agriculture and boost investment and production to transform Haiti from a development basket case into a Caribbean success story.

“Those are also priorities for us,” Lambert said, adding INITE was ready to work with the president on these goals.

“I think in the first few months you’re going to see cooperation,” said Robert Fatton Jr., a Haiti expert and professor in the University of Virginia’s Politics Department.

Early attention will focus on who Martelly proposes as his prime minister, who must be approved by parliament. In Haiti, only the parliament has the power to fire the prime minister.

“If you see problems in terms of the prime minister from the very beginning, then we are in trouble ... . That would indicate they are not prepared to work together initially,” Fatton told Reuters.

He expected Martelly to seek a compromise candidate with broad support in parliament, including possibly asking current Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to head a new government.

Bellerive is respected by foreign governments and donors as a capable administrator, although he has complained of Haiti’s government being sidelined in the flow of billions of dollars of external aid being channeled into post-quake recovery.

In Washington Martelly said Haiti’s reconstruction was still “despairingly slow.” Clinton assured him of U.S. support for rebuilding, saying “this is not only a goal of our foreign policy, but it is a personal priority for me.”

Fatton said the clear U.S. backing could smooth Martelly’s efforts to win over parliament.

“It indicates that money is going to flow and that is critical,” he said. “He needs the money not only for reconstruction but also for patronage.”

Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Xavier Briand

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