PORT-AU-PRINCE — In his first address to the nation, Haiti's interim president Jocelerme Privert urged politicians Sunday to unite to pull the deeply impoverished nation out of paralysing electoral crisis.
"Our moral duty demands that we focus exclusively on healthy, rigorous, impartial and transparent management of the state," Privert said in a speech from the gardens of the presidential palace.
The building itself is an example of the dysfunction hobbling the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere – it has yet to be rebuilt after a devastating 2010 earthquake shattered it.
"We are all called upon to reach national harmony and participate in a constructive dialogue."
The man who until the early morning hours had been Senate speaker was handed executive power after a marathon legislative session that lasted more than 10 hours.
It was the first time since 1946 that a Haitian head of state was chosen in an indirect election.
Privert took power following the departure of Michel Martelly on February 7, after a vote to choose his successor was postponed over fears of violence.
Privert promised that his mandate, limited to 120 days, will focus on "restoring national security... restoring the rule of law... and following through with the electoral process."
His official inauguration ceremony sought to be inclusive, with members of the outgoing government and lawmakers, but also members of the opposition, religious dignitaries and foreign diplomats.
The wife of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide – who was ousted in a coup – drew great interest. Privert was interior minister during Aristide's second term.
In 2004, after the man nicknamed "Titid" went into exile, Privert was arrested and spent more than two years in prison. He was freed in 2006 after a hunger strike.
He returned to politics during 2010 legislative elections.
Artistide party back in power
Near the presidential palace, a few dozen supporters of Aristide's Lavalas party showed their support for Privert as leader.
"Lavalas is back in power after being excluded for 12 years, 12 years of misery for the people," said Charles Lener, sporting an Aristide portrait on his shirt.
"Privert understands the Haitian people's problems."
While the election of an interim president does dampen the political crisis, there is still much uncertainty over Haiti's ability to hold presidential and legislative elections within the next four months.
And the plan to elect an interim president by indirect vote angered opponents. Some lawmakers even questioned the legitimacy of Privert's candidacy.
And the potential extension of the interim government is an additional setback for the country's already weak economy that is cooling foreign investment and increasing inflation that penalises the 60 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.
Thirty years after the end of the Duvalier dictatorship, Haiti is still struggling to hold credible elections. — AFP