PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — On crowded streets where fragile concrete homes collapsed and anguished people searched through rubble for loved ones, Haitians paused to remember the devastating January 2010 earthquake that shattered much of the teeming capital and surrounding area.
At 4:53 p.m., the time five years ago when the 7.0 magnitude quake heaved the ground and upended the lives of millions, many Port-au-Prince residents shared a moment to remember the dead before taking comfort in routines of everyday life.
“Five years ago, Haiti was in great pain. I pray for those who died and I thank you God for not taking the lives of my children,” Edline Guervil said with her eyes shut tight during a family prayer at her laundry shop in a hard-hit neighborhood where many died.
Hundreds of people attended a Catholic Mass just after dawn at a new church built alongside the ruined National Cathedral, the towering remnants of broken walls still dominating the impoverished Bel Air neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince.
“This is the anniversary of the day I can never forget,” Gladys Lambard, who lost her husband and sister in the quake, said as she walked into the church arm-in-arm with her 14-year-old daughter. “The sadness of that day marked me forever.”
Yet, as the nation of 10 million marked the fifth anniversary of the quake, a political crisis between Haiti’s president and parliament that has delayed legislative elections threatens to undermine the troubled country’s political stability.
President Michel Martelly and opposition lawmakers have been embroiled in a political showdown since 2011, when he was supposed to call a vote for a majority of Senate seats, the entire Chamber of Deputies and local offices. A group of opposition senators who accuse Martelly of trying to undermine the Constitution have blocked a vote that would lead to approval of an electoral law.
Parliament’s mandate comes to a close Monday and no law has been authorized to allow a vote.
The president, who leaves office next year, could soon sign a decree allowing Haiti to hold legislative elections later this year. On Monday morning, he told The Associated Press that he was losing hope that lawmakers would pass a law in the hours before Parliament dissolves.
“It’s their responsibility to do it, it’s not mine. I just hope that they do it, but it’s been there for so long that I think we have little chance,” he told AP at a memorial service for earthquake victims at a mass burial site north of the capital.
After days of negotiations with opposition figures, the president announced Sunday he had forged a last-minute accord with leaders of four opposition parties, leading to hopes an electoral law could soon be passed. But an emergency parliamentary session scheduled for Monday did not take place.
At a memorial service on the national holiday, Martelly contrasted the solidarity Haitians displayed in the immediate aftermath of the quake with the messy political situation it is enduring now. Opposition protesters have repeatedly clashed with riot police in downtown Port-au-Prince as they press for the president’s departure.
“Enough is enough,” Martelly said during his speech, addressing his words to opposition groups orchestrating the street protests. “Give the country a chance, in the name of the all the victims who died five years ago.”
Martelly spoke on the northern outskirts of Port-au-Prince, where he and the first lady placed white flowers before a large chunk of rubble set on a concrete pedestal. The site is being developed as a memorial for those who lost their lives.
The government has said more than 300,000 people were killed but the exact toll is unknown because there was no systematic effort to count bodies amid the chaos and destruction.
Carine Joiceus, a 24-year-old customs worker who attended the memorial Mass in Bel Air, had to have one of her arms amputated near the shoulder after she was pinned by falling rubble at a university. She has since had two children and says she has learned to live with her disability.
“I remember just crying the first year after it happened,” Joiceus said. “But since then, I’m moving ahead with my life and thinking of the future. ”
For the country as a whole, the recovery has been uneven.
The United Nations says Haiti has received more than 80 percent of about $12.45 billion pledged by more than 50 countries and multilateral agencies since the disaster, a combination of humanitarian assistance, recovery aid and disaster relief. Parts of the capital are awash in new construction and the number of people in dismal tent camps has dropped from around 1.5 million after the quake to around 80,000.
But Haiti also remains a desperately poor country facing many of the same challenges as before the earthquake. The World Bank says more than 6 million out of roughly 10.4 million inhabitants live under the national poverty line of $2.44 per day.