Don’t give up on Haitian democracy

Haiti's President Michel Martelly speaks during a memorial service for victims of the January 2010 earthquake, at Titanyen, a mass burial site north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Five years ago this week, an earthquake struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, killing tens of thousands of people and causing billions of dollars in damage. The social and political aftershocks are still rumbling.

Now the country may be left without a parliament.

Midterm and municipal elections have been delayed for two and three years respectively, and dozens of lawmakers’ terms expired on Monday. Despite negotiations between President Michel Martelly and legislators to extend expiring terms long enough to allow new elections, no agreement was reached before the Monday deadline.

As such, Mr. Martelly could begin to rule by decree unless a compromise is quickly reached.

While parliament floated legislation late last year to authorize new elections, some lawmakers argued the measure would have given an unfair advantage to the ruling party. It failed to pass.

Public discontent with the president and parliament sparked protests in the capital that have simmered for weeks, and led Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and other government officials to step down in December. But their removal from office has done little to pacify angry citizens.

The current unrest comes following a period of virtually unprecedented foreign investment in Haiti. Since the 2010 earthquake, international governments and non-profit organizations have pledged more than $10 billion in aid.

Too much of that investment failed to materialize or produced disappointing results, but there is still cause for hope.

Innovative projects funded by foreign aid, such as smartphone-based virtual wallets and micro-loan businesses, deserve continued exploration and support.

And humanitarian programs have expanded access to basic health care, education and economic opportunities.

The dissolution of the Haitian parliament — while not unprecedented in a nation that has withstood at least 33 coups d’etat — would be disastrous as the country struggles to project an image of improving stability.

The United States and Haiti’s other allies and partners must strongly encourage the government to hold elections and ensure the democratic process is allowed to survive and, hopefully, get better.