April 13, 2008 / 12:47 AM / 11 years ago

Haitian senators took no chances in censure vote

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The band of senators who ousted Haiti’s latest government took no chances. They stayed together, ate together and even slept in the same place to keep defection or mishap from derailing their plan.

The 16 opposition senators announced a day in advance they intended to fire Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, the head of a coalition Cabinet that was supposed to bring stability to the poor Caribbean nation whose intrigues were captured in Graham Greene’s novel “The Comedians.”

But in Haiti’s quicksand politics, replete with murky, shifting alliances, anything can happen.

“So we decided to spend the night together,” said Sen. Evaliere Beauplan.

They called Alexis into a Saturday session of the Senate to defend his record in two years at the helm of a country perhaps best known for its impoverished masses and the widespread practice of voodoo.

The fact the Senate even had the temerity to demand the prime minister face a censure vote spoke volumes for Haiti’s attempts in the past two years to establish democracy, after being run by ruthless military dictators and despots for most of the 200 years since a slave revolt freed the country from French rule.

Needing all 16 votes to oust Alexis, who was under fire after a week of riots and angry demonstrations over rising food prices, the senators were on guard against accident, illness or any intrigue that might have interfered.

“We didn’t sleep at home. We all slept in the same place. We ate the same food to make sure no one got sick. We all went down to parliament in a convoy,” Beauplan said.

As they gathered in the wood-panelled Senate, Alexis’ friend and ally, President Rene Preval, held a news conference a few blocks away at the National Palace, a stately whitewashed monument that has seen its own intrigues, from demonstrators bashing in its gates to assaults by armed coup plotters.

Preval, the only president in Haiti’s history to serve a complete term and hand power to a democratically chosen successor, had personally picked Alexis two years ago, hoping the pragmatic agronomist could heal Haiti’s wounded politics.

Under crystal chandeliers in an elegant room decorated with gold-coloured fixtures and heavy golden drapes, Preval announced that business and government had agreed to chop 15 percent from the price of rice.

30-MINUTE SESSION

As he spoke, the Senate met. Alexis’ lot was already cast. Senators representing his Lespwa (Hope) party did not even show up.

He spoke briefly and the senators fired him in a session that lasted only 30 minutes.

“To be frank, the senators didn’t really pay attention to what the prime minister was saying,” Sen. Gabriel Fortune said.

The motivations of the 16 senators arrayed against Alexis were — typically — a bit murky. They announced initially that the no-confidence vote was being called because of the government’s failure to address high living costs.

After the vote, they said he had also been fired because he failed to set a deadline for U.N. peacekeepers to leave the country, heed calls for a new national security force and protect people against crime.

Alexis was the first prime minister to be fired by a Haitian legislative body since the Duvalier family dictatorship ended in 1986, although two have resigned under pressure.

Back at the palace, the president, who nominates prime ministers, was wrapping up his news conference when he was told his carefully chosen coalition government had fallen.

“Now it’s my turn to play,” Preval said, and left.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva)

(Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Cooney)

For more stories on global food price rises, please see here

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