Haiti's Senate broke almost four months of political gridlock Thursday, ratifying Michele Pierre-Louis as the Caribbean nation's newest prime minister — and only the second woman to assume the post in Haitian history.
''I am extremely grateful to the people who trusted me and were with me up until my acceptance by both chambers,'' Pierre-Louis, 60, told The Miami Herald minutes after the vote in her first interview with the international media since she was nominated by President Rene Preval six weeks ago.
``Now is the beginning of what I believe will be a new era for the country and I will do my best to be up to the part. We believe that we can bring some change and open the way to a new way of doing politics.''
Twelve senators voted in favor of Pierre-Louis, a longtime grassroots advocate and economist, and five abstained. While the support means she can now officially move into the prime minister's office — replacing caretaker Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis — the vote signals that both Pierre-Louis and Préval still have plenty of work to do before she can run the day-to-day operations of the government.
Under Haiti's constitution, she must now present her governance plan along with her 16-member cabinet to both chambers of parliament. Preval and the political parties, who want a more active role in the new government, have been at loggerheads over the plan and cabinet.
Preval met with the leaders of the leading political parties on Thursday to ensure that their members would show up for the vote, and while they did, party leaders say the matter is not settled.
Senate President Kely Bastien told The Miami Herald that he's urging colleagues to think hard before they cast their votes in the next round.
''Today, even if food costs more, a senator can eat, a deputy can eat,'' he said. ``But many in the population cannot. When they take a decision, they need to think of the rest of the population.'
Bastien, a supporter of Pierre-Louis, said she brings a lot to her new job. She's worked among various sectors of Haitian society — from peasants in the countryside to urban intellectuals. She currently serves as executive director of the Fondation Connaissance et Liberte or FOKAL, an affiliate of the Open Society Institute. The organization runs libraries, youth education and development programs in the country.
''She's a prime minister that the international community has a lot of confidence in. She doesn't have political ambitions,'' Bastien said. ``She decided to accept this nomination because she wanted to help her country. I salute her effort and her courage.''