The political storm in Haiti intensified on Thursday as two competing prime ministers claimed the right to run the country, setting up an extraordinary power struggle over who has the legal authority to govern after the brazen assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in his home the day before.
Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, says he has taken command of the police and the army. He has also declared a “state of siege” that essentially put the country under martial law, although constitutional experts questioned his right to impose it, and a rival quickly challenged his claim to power.
Two days before his death, Mr. Moïse had appointed Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, as a new prime minister. Mr. Henry, who was supposed to take up the role this week, told a local newspaper after the presidential assassination that he was the rightful prime minister.
The dueling claims created a volatile political crisis that left constitutional experts confused and diplomats worried about a broad societal collapse that could ignite violence or prompt Haitians to flee the country en masse.
“No one understands” what is happening right now, said Lilas Desquiron, a Haitian writer who was culture minister from 2001 to 2004, leaving the nation’s 11 million people in a “wait-and-see and powerless position.”
Alarmed that Haiti may be approaching a breaking point reminiscent of the surge of Haitian refugees fleeing on boats to Florida after a 1991 coup, American officials have sided with the interim prime minister, Mr. Joseph.