Patricia Zengerle and Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters
January 27, 2010
* No new date set for parliamentary elections
* Preval says he will leave office on schedule
* Dismisses criticism of government relief effort
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Legislative elections in Haiti that were scheduled for Feb. 28 have been indefinitely postponed due to the devastating earthquake, President Rene Preval said on Wednesday.
“The electoral campaign should have opened tomorrow, and for obvious reasons, that won’t be able to happen,” Preval told Reuters in an interview at his temporary office.
The offices of the Electoral Council collapsed in the Jan. 12 earthquake, members of the U.N. mission working with the commission were killed and election materials were buried under rubble, he said.
“For human and technical reasons, it is obvious that the electoral process won’t be able to proceed as we had planned,” he said. “Now we have to discuss with the various parties what will happen, what will be the next plan.”
Preval said no new date for the elections had been set.
Looking further ahead, Preval said he would not seek to extend his term in office beyond its scheduled conclusion on Feb. 11, 2011. “I will leave office,” he said.
That means his government will have just over one year to rebuild the country before handing off the massive task to new leadership.
As many as 200,000 people were killed in the magnitude 7.0 quake, which largely destroyed the capital, Port-au-Prince, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, injured and in need of help.
Ninety-eight of the 99 seats in the legislature’s Chamber of Deputies were to be at stake in the February election, along with one-third of the 30-member Senate. The vote for the remaining lower house seat had been set previously for a later date.
Preval said Haiti’s constitution sets the date for elections and does not give the president the power to delay a vote, but he noted that electoral events in Haiti often veer from the constitutionally mandated schedule.
For example, Preval said, Haiti’s constitution mandated he take office on Feb. 7, 2006, but allegations of electoral fraud delayed his swearing-in until May 14. The constitution also sets the presidential term as five years, but he will not spend five full years in office.
“Life is sometimes stronger than the constitution,” he said.
‘I CHOSE TO WORK’
Preval, 67, who trained as an agronomist, also served as president from 1996 through 2001.
“I am one of the rare presidents to have completed my term and I have not been in exile. And I have been re-elected, and I will complete my second term.”
Preval, in fact, became in 2001 Haiti’s only president to win a democratic election, serve a full term and peacefully hand over power.
He has been criticized since the earthquake for failing to make many public appearances and for what has been seen as his government’s failure to be more active in helping its people.
Preval said he has had few ways to appear publicly, with media and electricity out. He also said he had chosen to work hard.
“In my job, we have two ways of doing things: the way politicians do, where we go to the hospital and we cry with the people,” he said. “Or to sit, and to work and to try to find the right way to recovery. I chose to work.”
Violent unrest is a threat to Haiti following the quake, which has forced hundreds of thousands of people to live in teeming tent camps, many complaining of chronic shortages of food.
Preval said that, despite the catastrophe, there had been nothing to suggest that there might be another coup.
“No, we have had no problem,” he said.
Preval has been working in the Judicial Police office since the National Palace and many other government buildings collapsed in the quake, which devastated the infrastructure and commerce in the hemisphere’s poorest country.
He said he intended soon to go back to the National Palace and set up a temporary tent office on the building’s lawn.
Asked if that plan was an indication to his people that he, like them, was making the best of a difficult situation, Preval shrugged and smiled, saying somewhat bitterly, “I have to have a place to work. There is space there, there is space on the grass.” (Editing by Eric Beech)