New setback for Haiti's pop star turned president
By Joseph Guyler-Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Lawmakers rejected Haitian President Michel Martelly's new choice for prime minister on Tuesday, blocking his efforts to install a government and move ahead with rebuilding a country shattered by last year's earthquake.
Sixteen members of the 30-seat Haitian Senate voted to reject Bernard Gousse, a controversial lawyer and former justice minister. The vote capped a rancorous day-long debate in the upper house of the impoverished nation's parliament.
It was the second rejection of Martelly's choice for premier in less than two months and marked a messy start to his young presidency. His first choice for the prime minister's post, economist and businessman Daniel Rouzier, was rejected by the chamber of deputies on June 21.
Martelly, a former pop star, came to office with no previous political experience. He was elected in March on populist promises to turn Haiti into a Caribbean success story after decades of crushing poverty and dictatorship.
Martelly's background as an irreverent and successful star of Haiti's catchy Kompa carnival music helped bolster his support among voters fed up with politics as usual in Haiti.
The rejection of Gousse, who served in an interim government that came to power in the politically volatile nation in 2004, came as little surprise after 16 members of the Senate signed a recent public statement opposing his selection as prime minister.
The same 16 senators voted against Gousse on Tuesday night, dashing his chances to head Martelly's government.
Gousse has been accused by critics of once leading a crackdown against backers of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular former Roman Catholic president seen as a champion of the poor.
The current parliament is dominated by supporters of former President Rene Preval, a one-time Aristide ally, and many still swear a loose allegiance to Aristide himself.
"We want to vote for a new government to address the population's urgent problems," said Senator Joseph Lambert, a leader of the INITE Party, which controls parliament.
"But we have to have a prime minister who is able to talk to all sectors and has not been accused of human rights violations," he said.
It was not immediately clear what Martelly might do next to gain the upper hand in his showdown with parliament. He has warned that a rejection of Gousse means it could take another six months to put a new government in place.
Diplomats and donors of international aid to Haiti, much of which has not yet been disbursed since pledges were made after the 2010 earthquake, say the Western Hemisphere's poorest country urgently needs to get a new administration up and running to advance its halting recovery.
The quake killed tens of thousands of people and wrecked much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Concern about political deadlock in Haiti is shared by major donor countries led by the United States, which has said a stable government in Port-au-Prince is key to forging ahead with future reconstruction and development projects.
Pressing tasks in Haiti include effectively fighting a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 6,000 people since October, and providing shelter from life-threatening winds, floods and landslides as the annual hurricane season moves into full force later this summer.