Haitian President Jovenel Moise has again brushed off criticism from opposition leaders and human rights groups who say his presidency expires on Sunday, insisting that his five-year mandate ends in February 2022.
Moise, who has been governing without any checks on his power for the past year, said his term ends on February 7, 2022 – an interpretation of the country’s constitution that has been rejected by the opposition.
“The next 12 months will be focused on reforming the energy sector, carrying out the referendum and organising elections,” he tweeted on Sunday morning.
Mon Administration a reçu du peuple haïtien un mandat constitutionnel de 60 mois. Nous en avons épuisé 48. Les 12 prochains mois seront consacrés à la réforme du secteur de l’énergie, la réalisation du référendum et l’organisation des élections.
— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) February 7, 2021
Opposition leaders have called for protests, while Moise said he plans to address the nation at 3pm local time (20:00 GMT).
The dispute over when his term ends stems from Moise’s original election.
He was voted into office in a 2015 poll later cancelled on grounds of fraud, and then elected again a year later, in 2016. But Moise was only sworn into office on February 7, 2017, and he and his supporters say that since his mandate only began on that date, it ends in 2022.
After the latter disputed election, demonstrations demanding his resignation intensified in 2018.
Haiti’s electoral council postponed legislative elections indefinitely in October 2019, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported, and Moise has been ruling by decree since January 2020, when the legislature’s mandate expired.
“Moise blamed parliament for the postponement, for failing to approve an electoral law, while his opponents accused him of maneuvers to hijack the process,” HRW said.
Haiti’s higher judicial council recognised the end of Moise’s presidential mandate on Sunday.
The council said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned by the serious threats resulting from the lack of political agreement in response to the expiration of the constitutional mandate of the president of the Republic, his Excellency Jovenel Moise, February 7, 2021”.
Kim Ives, a journalist with Haiti Liberte, told Al Jazeera that most legal analysts and most of the Haitian people agree the president should leave office on Sunday.
“One thing’s for sure: even if he survives today, [Moise is] going to be faced with huge unrest for the next year,” he said.
Meanwhile, about a dozen human rights groups criticised the United Nations mission in Haiti of providing technical and logistical support for the president’s plans to hold a constitutional reform referendum in April, then presidential and legislative elections later in the year.
“The United Nations must under no circumstances support President Jovenel Moise in his anti-democratic plans,” the groups said in a recent letter.
The Haitian opposition also expressed anger after the United States recognised Moise’s claim to power for another year.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Friday that the US has urged Haiti “to organise free and fair elections so that parliament may resume its rightful role”.
But Price said Washington agrees with the Organization of American States that a new president should succeed Moise “when his term ends on February 7, 2022”.
The chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Gregory Meeks, and US Congresswoman Yvette Clarke urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to reject Moise’s attempt to retain power.
In a letter on Saturday, the US lawmakers said “the time for a Haitian-led democratic transition is now”.
“Members of the opposition have sent President Moise an unmistakable message that his term must end on February 7. There have also been clear calls for a legitimate transitional government to be promptly established so that democratic elections can resume. The people of Haiti deserve a voice in their own governance, and the United States must extend its own voice to that critical cause,” they wrote.