Haiti to hold referendum despite international pushback

Haiti confirmed Tuesday its intention to hold a June constitutional referendum, despite international criticism that the process is not “inclusive, participatory or transparent” enough in a country plagued by political insecurity and criminal gangs.

“A referendum is an act of sovereignty. It essentially concerns Haitians: they are the ones who decide whether or not they want a referendum to change the Constitution,” said Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

President Jovenel Moise has been ruling by decree after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed and following disputes on when his own term ends.

In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections in September, Moise wants to submit a new draft of the island nation’s constitution to a popular vote on June 27.

Last week, the Core Group — composed of representatives from the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of American States, as well as the German, Brazilian, Canadian, French, US and Spanish embassies — expressed concern that “this process is not at this stage sufficiently inclusive, participatory or transparent.”

The United States on Thursday renewed its call for Haiti to hold elections while affirming its opposition to a change in the constitution.

“We’ve emphasized to the government of Haiti that the US government will not provide financial support for a constitutional referendum,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Haiti’s government made clear Tuesday it does not intend to abandon its project, although it remains open to dialogue.

“Some of the concerns expressed by our international friends are well-founded and legitimate,” said Joseph during his first press conference since being appointed prime minister on April 14.

“A referendum must indeed be an inclusive process, that’s why the president has initiated the process of dialogue.”

Moise, who faces anger and demands he resign amid the government’s failure to reign in criminal violence such as a recent spate of kidnappings, is on his sixth prime minister in four years.

In addition to the political crisis, kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.