Haiti on Monday postponed a constitutional referendum scheduled for June 27 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but did not give a new date for the vote in the latest twist in its political crisis.
President Jovenel Moise has been ruling Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, by decree after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed and following disputes on about when his own term ends.
In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections in September, Moise had wanted to submit a new draft of the island nation’s constitution to a popular vote on June 27.
Last month, he had vowed to go ahead despite international criticism that the process is not “inclusive, participatory or transparent” enough in a country plagued by political insecurity and criminal gangs.
But on Monday an official statement said the decision to postpone was motivated by “difficulties” the electoral council faced as it tries “to assemble and train all the temporary staff for the realization of the poll” in the face of the pandemic.
A new date would be set “after the recommendations of the health authorities and the technical advice of the executives of the electoral institution,” it said.
On May 24 Haiti declared a state of health emergency due to the increase in cases of COVID-19.
Over the weekend the Independent Consultative Committee (CCI) expressed concern at “the increase in speeches inciting violence, as well as the acts of certain individuals against the constitutional referendum” that was scheduled for June 27 in Haiti.
The Committee said that it had observed that groups were inviting the population to set fire to electoral offices as well as urging armed gangs to take to the streets.
“This kind of statement, supported by public figures have repercussions in reality, leading to regrettable episodes like those recorded on June 1 in Jacmel,” the CCI said in a statement, also expresses its concerns about “the increase in hate messages on the social networks”.
Over the weekend clashes between two gangs in a poor neighbourhood in densely populated Port-au-Prince forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes, taking refuge in nearby churches and gymnasiums.
Moise, who faces anger and demands he resign amid the government’s failure to reign in criminal violence, is on his sixth prime minister in four years.
In addition to the political crisis, kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months, further reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.
It also faces chronic poverty and recurrent natural disasters.
Justice and Public Security Minister, Rockefeller Vincent, has already warned that the authorities will not tolerate any attempt to disrupt the constitutional referendum.
The Organization of American States has agreed to send a five-member delegation to Haiti no later than mid-June to help broker an agreement allowing for the polls.
The OAS said that the mission will consist of the representatives of five member states, namely: Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States.