Exit of last elected senator leaves the Caribbean nation's future uncertain as gangs run amok across the crime-ravaged country.

Haitians line up outside an immigration office as they wait their turns to apply for passport to reach US, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Haitians line up outside an immigration office as they wait their turns to apply for passport to reach US, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AFP)

Haiti's last elected senators have officially left office, raising fears for the future of democracy in an impoverished, crime-ravaged nation that has not managed to hold a vote since 2016.

With not a single elected official left on the national stage as of Tuesday, and gangs running amok across the country, Haiti's very future looked uncertain 18 months after its last president was assassinated.

It's been a gradual process: the legislative branch effectively ceased to function back in January 2020, when all lower house deputies and two-thirds of the National Assembly's upper chamber left their posts without successors to replace them.

"You can barely call it a democracy anymore," says lawyer Samuel Madistin, "and this comes at a time when the state is losing control of the majority of its territory, 60 percent of it, to armed gangs."

For Madistin, Haiti "is a state which, in practical terms, no longer exists."

The assassination of president Jovenel Moise by an armed commando squad in his private residence in July 2021 only amplified the deep political crisis in which the country was already mired because of the paralysis of public institutions.

Currently, it is Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who helms the country, but having been appointed rather than elected, just 48 hours before the president's murder, his legitimacy is widely questioned.

The Parliament building in downtown Port-au-Prince remained deserted on Tuesday, with only security guards at the gate.

Similar scenes were evident outside Haiti's non-functioning Supreme Court and electoral commission.

READ MORE: 'Gangsters' kill residents, burn homes in Haiti town

Spiral into lawlessness

Madistin believes the Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK), the party once led by Moise, deliberately stalled on organising elections in the country out of self-interest.

But he adds, "The failure is also that of the international community and the United Nations, whose mission was to stabilise the country politically."

After 13 years of the UN Minustah mission, which deployed up to 9,000 blue helmets and more than 4,000 international police officers from 2004 to 2017, the UN has scaled down its presence in Haiti.

Reduced today to a political office of about 60 staff, the world body has nevertheless kept its mandate to "strengthen political stability and good governance."

"Citizens are not really interested in the problem of representation: their priority is security," notes Gedeon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH).

During 2022 the civil society organisation recorded at least 857 kidnappings committed by armed gangs.

More surprisingly, the country's spiral into lawlessness does not always top the agenda for politicians either.

One of the senators whose term ended on Monday, Patrice Dumont, used his leaving press conference to expand in detail on his accomplishments in parliament — and to denounce the waste of public money by his fellow lawmakers.

READ MORE: UN slaps sanctions on Haiti gangster 'Barbecue', others

Corruption in parliament

That lack of interest in politics has grown over the years as the list of scandals involving ministers, deputies, or senators has grown ever longer — without Haiti's justice system taking any action.

Scarcely more than 20 percent of voters bothered to cast a ballot in the last polls the country managed to hold in late 2016.

"Parliament has become a high place for corruption: people cast votes in exchange for money, for management positions," says the director of CARDH.

"We had corrupt people in parliament, drug traffickers, people who were used for money laundering," Jean adds.

Jean says that some morality needs to be injected into the political life and the electoral system needs to be cleaned up "to prevent people from holding the next elections hostage with dirty money."

READ MORE: UN Security Council divided over 'external interference' in Haiti

In the halls of the migration office in the Haitian capital, people seeking a way out line up and wait their turn.
In the halls of the migration office in the Haitian capital, people seeking a way out line up and wait their turn. (AFP)

Haitians flock for passports to reach US

Meanwhile, Haitians seeking to escape from poverty and despair were flocking to government offices hoping to get a passport and perhaps their ticket to life in America under a new US immigration programme.

At the main migration office in Port-au-Prince, the crowd is so big that security officers keep the metal gates closed and only let people in one by one.

Under the new policy announced by President Joe Biden, the United States will accept 30,000 people per month from Haiti and a handful of other countries mired in crisis — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — but on condition they stay away from the overcrowded US border with Mexico and arrive by plane.

To qualify for this programme, candidates must also have a sponsor in the US who can show sufficient income to support them.

READ MORE: Haiti gets armoured vehicles from US, Canada to fight gangs

Source: TRTWorld and agencies