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Amid perceived power vacuum, dozens vie to be Haiti’s leader

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s economy is paralyzed. Demonstrators fight police, block roads and loot stores several times a week. President Jovenel Moïse is avoiding public appearances. And dozens of people from political parties old and new are vying to become the country’s next leader.

Opposition leaders range from a wealthy grocery-chain owner to a collection of veteran politicians with murky pasts, some with allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime. Despite unifying outrage at Moïse’s political and economic mismanagement, protesters say the absence of a charismatic leader and a clear strategy is fueling chaos and the sense of an unending crisis.

Moïse still has more than two years left in his term after taking office in February 2017 and says he will not step down despite violent protests that have shuttered businesses and kept 2 million children from going to school for nearly a month. Nearly 20 people have died and about 200 injured in protests fueled by anger over corruption, rising inflation and scarcity of basic goods including fuel.

With Moïse unyielding, the opposition disorganized and the international community on the sidelines, Haiti likely faces months or even years of dysfunction that’s deep enough to cause widespread misery and political and economic free-fall without causing a government overthrow.

“It’s a completely dysfunctional country,” said Benzico Pierre with the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Participatory Education, a Haitian think tank. “There’s no trust in the institutions.”

It’s a concern that Carl Murat Cantave, president of Haiti’s Senate, acknowledged in a speech televised Tuesday as he warned that Haiti’s crisis is “rotting.”

He urged Moïse to launch a dialogue and said all options should be placed on the table.

“The country needs a genuine re-engineering so it can move forward because everyone is failing as a leader,” he said in Creole. “Only the people right now have legitimacy.”

Hours after Cantave’s speech, Moïse’s office issued a statement saying he has named seven people charged with leading discussions to find a solution to help end the crisis. Among them is former prime minister Evans Paul, who recently told The Associated Press that he believes Moïse has several options, including nominating an opposition-backed prime minister and shortening his mandate.

On Wednesday, opposition figures who are leading the protests rejected Moïse’s statement, saying the commission has no credibility.

“A head of state who respects himself and who respects his people does not create, in times of crisis, a commission of negotiation with his advisers and his spokesmen. This is not serious,” attorney André Michel told The Associated Press.

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