New Haiti PM says elections top priority

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) — Haiti's newly appointed premier told AFP yesterday his top priority is creating a “conducive environment” for elections in the crisis-wracked Caribbean country.

Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who studied in France, was appointed prime minister by President Jovenel Moïse on Monday.

“My mission is simple. The president charged me with creating a conducive environment for the organisation of inclusive elections with a high turnout,” Henry told AFP in an exclusive interview.

“Today, I am working on forming my government,” he added.

Henry succeeded Claude Joseph, who served only three months in the post, and is the seventh premier under Moïse in four years.

Moïse has been ruling Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, by decree, after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed and following disputes on when his own term ends.

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.

The president has been accused of inaction in the face of crises, and faces steep opposition from swaths of the population.

The United Nations Security Council, the United States and Europe have called for free and transparent legislative and presidential elections to be held by the end of 2021.

Henry, 71, has been part of Haiti's novel coronavirus response and previously held posts in the Government in 2015 and 2016 as interior minister then social affairs and labour minister.

He was also a member of the health minister's cabinet from June 2006 to September 2008, before becoming chief of staff, a post he held from September 2008 to October 2011.

In his new role, Moïse tasked Henry with “forming a broad-based government” to “solve the glaring problem of insecurity” and to work toward “the holding of general elections and the referendum”.

In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections, Moïse had wanted to submit a new draft of the island nation's constitution to a popular vote on June 27.

Supported by Moïse, the text of the constitutional reform, aimed at strengthening the executive, has been overwhelmingly rejected by the opposition and many civil society organisations.

They have slammed the illegitimacy of the head of state's mandate and the impossibility of organising a poll, given the general insecurity in the country.

Henry is close to the opposition, but his appointment was not welcomed by the majority of opposition parties, who continue to demand the president step down.

BY KEDIESHA PERRY Observer writer

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