The shocking assassination of Haiti president Jovenel Moise on 7 July has added another layer to the nation's continuing political and constitutional crisis. The tiny country in the Americas is among the poorest in the world with little prospects of achieving sustained economic and social growth in the absence of proper institutional mechanisms that can provide continuity to government policies and ensure stability — things Haiti needs more than ever if it is to leave behind a terrible past marked by dictatorships and violence.
How Haiti got here?
The brazen assassination attempt by alleged foreign-based actors — two of the group that carried out the killing at Moise's residence are alleged to be US citizens of Haitian descent while the majority of the assassins are believed to be Colombians — has been condemned widely by world leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But Moise's rule was a divisive one for Haiti and he clung on to power amid allegations of corruption and demands for him to step down.
Opposition leaders said that power effectively passed to Moise after he won the elections held after Michel Martelly, who was president before him, stepped down in 2016. But Moise claimed that he could enter office only in 2017 due to dispute over the results of the election and, hence, his tenure ended in 2022.
In between, Moise failed to conduct legislative elections in 2019, which meant Haiti was left without a Parliament and the President was left to rule by decree. All this meant that there were protests on the ground against Moise's decision to continue in power and the Opposition had even chosen an 'interim president' to replace Moise, an act that he had labelled a coup and that saw him put several Opposition leaders in jail.
Who's in charge now?
For the time being, it's interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph. But even his position is not clear as Moise had named a new prime minister — Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon — the day before he was assassinated.
News agency Associated Press said that Joseph had told them in an interview that he had "spoken three times with Henry and that there was agreement he was in charge for now".
“He (Henry) was actually designated but never took office,” Joseph said.
“I was the one who was a prime minister, who was in office. This is what the law and the Constitution says.” In a separate interview, however, AP quotes Henry as saying that he was “the prime minister in office.”
Reports say that the Haitian constitution, which is a document not everybody recognises in the country, mandates that the Supreme Court Chief Justice would wield interim charge in the event of a sudden departure by the president. But the Supreme Court chief died last month due to COVID-19 with no replacement named yet.
What's the road ahead?
Haiti holds the distinction of being the world's first Black-led republic after a revolt by the slave colony saw them get rid of the control of their French masters in 1804.
However, in the centuries since, the country has hardly seen a peaceful transition of power or any period of long-lasting political stability. It has faced dictatorship, and multiple invasions by the US, which occupied the country from 1915 to 1934 while US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush had both sent in troops to restore order.
If the political situation has been mostly tense so has the economic fortunes of the country been subject to regular shocks. The country is driven by gang violence and pockets of territory, including in capital Port-Au-Prince, are controlled by violent gangs with little or no presence of police or law enforcement.
An earthquake in 2010 left hundreds of thousands of Haitians dead and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 brought widespread misery from which the country is still trying to emerge.
Experts say the best course at the moment would be for the interim prime minister and the Opposition parties to join hands to conduct the elections slated to be held in September this year.