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 daylong debate in the upper house of the nation’s parliament.
It was the second rejection of Martelly’s choice for prime minister 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 lower house Chamber of Deputies on June 21.
Martelly, a former pop star who used the stage name “Sweet Micky,” 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.
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.
Gousse has been accused by critics of once leading a crackdown against backers of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular former president seen as a champion of the poor.
The current parliament is dominated by supporters of former Haitian 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 Haitian 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.”
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.