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A Go-It-Alone President Wants to Reshape Haiti. Some Are Skeptical.

Haiti’s president knows he has a problem: Governing a country that at times seems to verge on the ungovernable is hard enough when you have a lot of support.

Jovenel Moïse clearly does not.

In a recent interview, the Haitian leader lamented that he has the confidence of only a small sliver of his people.

He won the 2016 elections with just under 600,000 votes in a country of 11 million. And now many are angry over his refusal to leave office in January, amid a dispute over whether his term ended then or should extend for one more year.

Yet Mr. Moïse, 52, has chosen this moment to embark on the biggest shake-up Haiti’s politics has seen in decades, overseeing the drafting of a new Constitution that will restructure government and give the presidency greater powers.

desperation is at an all-time high. Many Haitians are unable to step onto the street to run basic errands without worrying about being kidnapped for ransom.

Mr. Moïse says he, too, is concerned about voter participation.

“There is a silent majority,” he said. “Many Haitians don’t want to participate in something they think will be violent. We need peace and stability to encourage people to vote.”

As the June referendum on the Constitution approaches, the government is trying to register five million voters, Mr. Moïse said. His goal, he said, is to inject the process with more legitimacy than his presidency had.

According to the United Nations, there are at least 6.7 million potential voters in Haiti. Others say that number is an undercount, since many Haitians are undocumented, their births never registered with the government.

In an effort to placate critics, and ease concerns that he is positioning himself to benefit from the new Constitution, Mr. Moïse has promised not to run in the next election.

But to fix the country before he steps down, he says, he needs to accumulate enough power to take on an oligarchy he says has paralyzed Haiti to profit off a government too weak to regulate or tax their businesses.

“We are suffering today from state capture — it is the biggest problem we face today,” Mr. Moïse said.

Some view with deep skepticism Mr. Moïse’s claims that he has made an enemy out of big businesses by trying to regulate them. They say the president is simply trying to stoke populist sentiment to deflect from the failures of his own government and sideline political opponents.

Others are willing to be more charitable, but say he has not done enough to build support.

“The problem is that the way that Moïse has gone about it,” said Alexandra Filippova, a senior staff attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, an organization that provides legal representation for victims of human rights abuses. “He is unilaterally pushing it forward.”

The draft Constitution, for example, released last month, is available only in French — which the vast majority of Haitians do not read — instead of Creole.

And no members of civil society were invited to take part as the document was drafted. Mr. Moïse instead appointed a special commission to do that. That, critics say, dims the chances for real progress.

“Constitutional change is supposed to reflect a social consensus of some sort,” Ms. Filippova said.

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