THE BLOG

To Be or Not to Be: Political Suicide and Non­‐Being in Haiti

It all started with a two-sentence letter, "I feel obliged to render my resignation as prime
minister of the government of the republic of Haiti. Please receive my respectful and
patriotic wishes to you, M. le président." It was signed Garry Conille.

With that, the third person nominated to be prime minister of Haiti by Michel Joseph
Martelly -- and the only to be ratified by Parliament -- left his post as the head of
government after only four months on the job.

If Mr. Conille was chosen by parliamentary vote to form a government capable of
ascertaining the socio-economic needs of a devastated nation, of managing and reorganizing the structures of power of a corrupt and broken executive, and especially of
being held accountable for the massive amounts of aid and resultant spending that the
international community has offered to help Haiti recover from the effects of the 2010
earthquake, it was because Mr. Martelly was chosen by popular vote to head the nation.

Mr. Martelly was asked to lead a confused and -- with all due respect -- broken country. He
offered an uplifting message of reform, strength, and mostly joie de vivre that not only
eschewed responsibility for creating a functioning government, but also did not
ultimately need one to be in place.

And therein lies the root of the current state of affairs.

The volatile relationship between Mr. Martelly and the legislature resulted in an internal
power struggle within the executive as Mr. Conille sought to mediate. The result was a
systematic erosion of governmental control by the Prime Minister, instigated by the
president.

Mr. Conille was constitutionally compelled to resign, as an act of civil responsibility, not
protest or humiliation. Article 155 of the 1987 constitution states that "The prime
minister is the head of government." Article 156 declares further that "government
conducts the policy of the nation [and] is responsible before Parliament," not the
president.

Mr. Conille was drawing a line in the historical sand, essentially saying that under his
watch the 1987 Haitian constitution would not be made irrelevant. He was in essence
committing political suicide in order to re-establish the fundamental role of the
legislature in the balance of power.

At the same time, he was challenging Mr. Martelly to uphold his constitutional
responsibilities under Article 137 by selecting a new prime minister in consultation with
the presidents of the Senate and the House of Deputies. This seemingly logical
procedure is fundamental to creating a democratic government. As it turns out, rather
than confer with Parliament, Mr. Martelly submitted three names for prime minister
stating that any of them would be acceptable to him. The contempt of such an action was
evident, and the legislature refused to accept it. Eventually, the president proposed one
name only. Ratification is pending.

Lastly, by resigning Mr. Conille reminded Mr. Martelly that there should be no ambiguity
in his stance toward the autonomous military groups currently forming throughout the
country. The armed forces of Haiti were disbanded in 1995, and this troubling
autonomous re-banding of military personnel is a serious threat to democracy. The
1987 constitution, in Articles 263-1 and 268-1, clearly says that there shall be no militia
outside the national police or the armed forces of Haiti. As of this writing, the militias
refuse to accept Mr. Martelly's perfunctory order to disband. Given the president's long
history of support for the military, they claim -- rightfully so, I believe -- that he is merely
giving lip service to international benefactors.

In accepting Mr. Conille's resignation, the president set in motion a series of events that
are, ironically, resulting in a more accountable, transparent and ultimately law-abiding
government. Far from being a scapegoat, Mr. Conille chose to be the sacrificial lamb that
would both activate and perturb the cycle of power that Haiti has suffered throughout
its history.

Mr. Conille is now both a political non-being and a constitutional zesprit capable, by his
very absence and substance, of bringing about the government his parliamentary
mandate required.

To whit, Mr. Martelly is now collaborating with the legislature. He is solely responsible
in front of both the international community and the Haitian people for the rule of law
and for democratic rule. Ultimately, he has been made aware of the limits of executive
power.

Though Mr. Conille can be accused of political naïveté, he did contribute a great deal to
creating a transparent, stable and accountable government. He did not realize that there
were individuals in Haiti who had many things -- indeed, everything -- to gain if he failed.
But neither did they understand that for his part, Mr. Conille had nothing to lose.

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