Haiti’s lawmakers selected an opposition senator who served as interior minister under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as interim president on Sunday, in a move aimed at filling a power vacuum threatening stability in the Caribbean nation.
Senate chief Jocelerme Privert, 63, was sworn in on Sunday as the provisional president. His main task will be to quickly organize fresh elections.
Haiti canceled a runoff presidential election in January amid often violent protests over alleged fraud in the first round and after the opposition candidate boycotted the vote.
Privert vowed to complete the elections and hand over to an elected president by May 14. “I will engage in dialogue with all sectors to get the country out of crisis,” he said.
Former President Michel Martelly finished his term a week ago with no elected successor.
Under an agreement struck before Martelly left office, the interim government will have a 120-day term but should organize elections by April 24, and hand power over to the winner in May.
Privert’s selection could help calm the protests led by factions of Aristide’s Lavalas movement, which believed elections organized under Martelly were not free and fair.
After Aristide was forced from power in 2004 by armed groups, Privert was jailed for two years on charges that he orchestrated a massacre of Aristide’s opponents. The charges were later dropped.
Lavalas spokesman Gerald Gilles welcomed the development. “The election of Privert is a great satisfaction for us and for the democratic sector,” he said.
Another opposition party, a breakaway faction of Aristide’s movement called Platform Pitit Dessalines, was more cautious and called for Privert to create a balanced electoral council acceptable to all sides.
A major challenge for Privert will be to reach an agreement about who can participate in the election, with many opposition parties rejecting the October results that led to a two-man race between opposition candidate Jude Celestin and ruling party favorite Jovenel Moise.
The last time there was an interim government in Haiti was after Aristide’s ouster and it took two years to hold elections.