Haiti is seeking a new prime minister. Dozens of candidates jostle for the key job

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A weeklong search for a new prime minister of Haiti has flooded the inboxes of a transitional presidential council with dozens of candidates jostling to become the country's next leader.

Political parties, business leaders, the diaspora and even religious institutions had until Friday to submit their choice for a position currently filled by interim Prime Minister Michel Patrick Boisvert.

It's not an easy task — and it comes on the heels of a surge in violence that convulsed the nation.

Diego Da Rin with the International Crisis Group said Haiti's next prime minister shoulders immense responsibilities, including restoring security, reforming the country's constitution, organizing elections and creating a commission for truth, justice and reparation — all in less than two years.

“Many of the candidates clearly lack the necessary experience and skills for this role,” Da Rin said. “Nevertheless, some of these under-qualified candidates are supported by various political groups aiming to leverage the significant influence the next prime minister will wield to further their own interests."

It’s unclear how long it will take the seven members with voting powers within a nine-person council to select a candidate; a previous attempt to choose a new prime minister led to an acrimonious fallout between some council members.

On April 30, a four-person coalition within the council unexpectedly announced it had chosen a new prime minister: Fritz Bélizaire, a former sports minister whose name was unknown to many Haitians.

The council members who were not part of the coalition criticized the surprise move and pushed for a former selection process as required by the framework that created the council and outlined its responsibilities. Two prominent members had told The Associated Press the council agreed to consider five members a majority, instead of four.

When the council announced it would accept submissions for prime minister from May 13-17, it said it was following proper procedure and seemingly ignored the April 30 announcement.

Council members did not return messages seeking comment, with one saying he would speak at some point on Friday. The council has not released the names of the candidates submitted.

The Pitit Desalin party upheld its original choice of Bélizaire for prime minister, while other parties and groups submitted well-known names of former legislators and ministers, according to local media.

The Association of Pastors and Evangelical Leaders of Haiti issued a statement proposing Stanley Junior Mésalier, describing him as a “young, honest politician” who would “be up to the challenges of the day.”

Meanwhile, the Conference of Rectors, University Presidents and Heads of Higher Education Institutions in Haiti said it had selected Fénol Metellus, an economist and university rector.

It wasn't immediately clear if Michel Patrick Boisvert, Haiti's interim prime minister, was nominated by anyone.

It’s not unusual in Haiti to see a large number of candidates for key political posts — more than 50 candidates ran in the first round of the 2015 general elections.

The search for a prime minister comes as Haiti is awaiting the imminent arrival of a Kenyan police force as part of a U.N.-backed deployment to fight gangs that have been strangling the capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.

Haiti has been in upheaval since Feb. 29, when a coalition of gangs launched coordinated attacks targeting key government infrastructure. They burned police stations, opened fire on the main international airport that has remained closed since March 4 and stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates. The country’s largest seaport also remains paralyzed.

The violence prevented former Prime Minister Ariel Henry from returning to Haiti from an official trip to Kenya when the attacks began and the spiraling crisis forced him to resign in late April.

More than 2,500 people were killed or injured in Haiti from January to March, a more than 50% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the United Nations.

Much of the gang violence began to surge in the months following the July 2021 assassination of Haiti’s former president, Jovenel Moïse.

The transitional council is tasked with choosing a prime minister and a Cabinet and organizing upcoming elections— even as gangs continue to target previously peaceful communities in Port-au-Prince.

A recent attack in the community of Gressier prompted the president of the transitional council, Edgard Leblanc, to pledge to crack down on the relentless violence.

“It is our responsibility at the (council) to ensure the safety of everyone living in the country,” Leblanc said in a May 13 statement.

The council guarantees that “the end of the bandits’ reign of terror will come within a fairly short period of time,” he said.