President Michel Martelly
President Michel Martelly

Haitian President Michel Martelly was denied the opportunity to give his final “state of the nation” address Monday when senators opted to welcome their newly elected Senate colleagues in a low-key ceremony in the chamber rather than the pomp and circumstance ceremony that brings both chambers together as the National Assembly.

“These are difficult times,” outgoing Senate President Andris Riché said, calling the absence of a National Assembly unprecedented.

Riché didn’t explain the rationale behind the gesture, but some believe it was as much an affront to the international community as it was to Martelly, who had a combative relationship with the body before it dissolved a year ago amid a political crisis and delayed elections. Led by the United Nations, foreign diplomats had insisted on Haiti respecting its constitutionally mandated date for parliament to resume functioning despite allegations that the Aug. 9 legislative first round and Oct. 25 runoff and presidential vote were marred by fraud.

On Monday, diplomats, who are usually invited to welcome the new lawmakers — in a ceremony where deputies don white suits and the president of the National Assembly, a black hat — were nowhere to be found.

Constitutionalists had argued that the lawmakers couldn’t legally take their seat until the electoral process ended. There are still 26 deputies out of 119 in the Lower Chamber of Deputies, and six senators out of 30, who still are left to be elected in the scheduled Jan. 24 partial legislative and presidential runoffs.

As a result of the unfinished process and opposition claims that the elections were a farce, political parties this week came under heavy criticism for allowing senators to be sworn in Monday as well as allowing 92 deputies to take the oath of office on Sunday.

Calling the Sunday swearing in unconstitutional, the G-8 opposition presidential alliance issued a statement denouncing parliament’s reentry. Alliance member Sen. Steven Benoi boycotted the Monday swearing in along with two other opposition senators. Meanwhile, a small group of protesters denounced the opening of the sessions, throwing rocks and calling lawmakers kidnappers and drug-dealers in search of immunity from prosecution.

“While we are here, some people are outside and criticizing our presence here in this room but also the process of what happened to bring us here,” Riché said, as he lamented the lack women in the Senate.

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