President Michel Martelly of Haiti left office Sunday, on schedule but leaving the office without a successor. File photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI | License Photo
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Haitian President Michel Martelly stepped down from his position, completing his term but leaving the impoverished country without a successor.
Martelly, 54, handed over his symbolic presidential sash Sunday to the leader of the National Assembly and said in a farewell speech to the nation, "I am at the end of my mandate.
He said he regretted presidential elections were deferred during his five-year administration. His term was regarded as autocratic and he was accused of living a lavish and corrupt lifestyle.
He leaves Haiti after October presidential elections critics said were fraudulent. Martelly's chosen successor, Jovenal Moise, finished first and the second-place candidate, Jude Celstin, refused to participate in a runoff election, which was canceled. Under an accord reached prior to the end of Martelly's term, Haiti's prime minister will be regarded as president until the legislature chooses an interim president, then a new prime minister will be picked, and the results of the October vote will be reviewed.
The new president is expected be installed by May 14, said John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman. A State Department statement issued Sunday said, "The United States welcomes the agreement by executive and legislative authorities in Haiti to ensure the continuity of governance and the completion of the ongoing electoral process."
Haiti's actions can be seen as averting a crisis, or at least postponing it. Disputes could still arise over the election results, and Robert Fatton, political scientist at the University of Virginia, told The New York Times that "The old military people that are out on the streets are sending a clear signal to opposition groups: 'If you don't accept this compromise, we are out here, with weapons.'"
"No one knows who was in charge of these people. Everyone assumes they are in fact armed people and armed by the Michel Martelly regime," he said.
An unidentified official of the Organization of American States, which sent a delegation to Haiti to monitor the electoral crisis, commented, "The headline should read: 'A blood bath was avoided.'"