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How Haiti wound up without a president

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Dieu Nalio Chery/ AP

(Read caption) A protester calling for President Michel Joseph Martelly's resignation holds photos of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on February 6. President Martelly left office February 7 after leaders negotiated plans to select an interim government. Allegations of fraud have twice postponed scheduled presidential elections.

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Michel Joseph Martelly left office as Haiti's president on Sunday after a last-minute deal to establish an interim government and a path toward twice-delayed elections, leaving the country without a president after months of election-related turmoil.

The former pop singer known as "Sweet Mickey," who maintained popularity despite letting Parliament expire during his five-year presidency, once told New Yorker journalist Jon Lee Anderson that he planned to head directly to a Carnival float after his term ran out on Feb. 7. Instead, Mr. Martelly left after a more subdued, but still hopeful, speech to Parliament, as the first day of the annual Carnival was called off amid sometimes violent confrontations between anti-government protesters, police, and Martelly supporters in the capital, Vice News reported. At least one man was killed on Friday, and others severely injured.

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In a final address to Parliament, Martelly said he was leaving office as scheduled "to contribute to constitutional normalcy," despite the lack of successor. His "biggest regret is that the presidential election was postponed," he told lawmakers, referring to allegations of fraud that have twice prevented presidential elections, whose first round was held Oct. 25. 

Jovenel Moïse, a banana exporter backed by Martelly, won the first runoff round of 54 candidates. Many political party election monitors were accused of voting multiple times, reported the Miami Herald, and Moïse's main opponent, Jude Célestin, refused to participate in subsequent runoffs without a fraud investigation.

Representatives from the Organization of American States held meetings with Martelly and parliamentarians this week to forge a last-minute arrangement for an interim government. Current Prime Minister Evans Paul will remain in office while Parliament selects an interim president. The postponed presidential and parliamentary runoffs are now scheduled for April 24, with plans for the new president to take office May 14. 

The US State Department and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praised the deal, which, paired with Martelly's departure, could calm some of the tensions that have not only prevented the elections, but perhaps delayed the country's continuing recovery from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 Haitians and has left tens of thousands still displaced.

A spokesman for the Secretary-General pledged support for Haiti's "democratic aspirations," while a State Department spokesman urged politicians to commit to the agreement as a means of "strengthening democracy."

However, eight presidential candidates have criticized the deal, which they say legitimizes the October elections by giving Parliament the power to choose the interim president, Reuters reports.

Haiti has struggled to maintain a stable, democratically elected government since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, 30 years ago this Sunday, when Martelly left office. 

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Progress since then, particularly in education, has led United Nations Development Program Haiti Senior Director Sophie de Caen to predict that Haiti is "moving beyond the humanitarian stage and onto a hard but promising path towards long-term sustainable development," as she wrote in an op-ed published by Al Jazeera in January 2015.

Other observers, however, have cautioned that to maintain those gains, Haitian politicians need to reprioritize human rights over inter-factional fighting. "By choosing to hold a country hostage in this electoral crisis, Haiti's political class is playing risky games with the lives and human rights of millions of Haitians," Amnesty International researcher Chiara Liguori wrote in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, calling for infrastructure development and judicial reform. 

Outgoing president Martelly, who is implicated in many accusations of electoral fraud and autocratic policies, urged cooperation on his last day in office.

"I invite each [Haitian] to understand that ideas and different opinions is not an evil...we can manage to agree, to unite to light the way of development," he said in his last speech, according to the news website Haiti Libre.