Wyclef Jean yesterday officially announced his intention to run in the upcoming Haitian presidential election in the country’s capital city of Port-au-Prince. Earlier in the day he also stepped down as chairman of his charitable organisation Yéle Haiti in preparation for his new career in politics.
After registering to stand as a candidate for the Viv Ansanm party at an electoral office in the city, Jean told cheering supporters: “I would like to tell President Barack Obama that the United States has Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean. This is the only president who will dance when Creole hip hop is being played”.
The musician is not yet officially in the race, though. His application must first be approved by officials, a decision which has to be made by 17 Aug. If this happens, it already looks certain that he will win. However, there has been speculation as to whether or not Jean is eligible to become president of Haiti.
According to constitutional rules, potential presidential candidates must have lived in Haiti for five consecutive years and never had foreign citizenship. Jean moved to the US as a child, still lives there and holds a US passport. But he says his work as “ambassador-at-large” for the country, a position given to him by outgoing president Rene Preval in 2007 after several years of work supporting the country’s youth, exempts him from these requirements. Whether the review board examining his application will agree remains to be seen.
Speaking on CNN’s ‘Larry King Live’ show last night, Jean said: “After 12 Jan [when Haiti was hit by a massive earthquake] … being out here with my wife and picking up dead bodies from the ground, I felt that because of the youth of Haiti and the population that this is not even Wyclef saying that ‘I want to be the president of Haiti’. I feel like I’m being drafted by the population right now to give them a different face, a different voice”.
Asked why someone who has no experience in politics would make a good president, he continued: “What qualifies me to be president of Haiti, when I look at the past 200 years, with what our people have suffered – political instability, coup after coup d’état – I feel that me running, it brings a neutral situation, meaning that Wyclef Jean can sit with any political party and have a conversation. I’m coming in neutral”.
Speaking to MTV News, he added: “This is a move I have been considering for a long time, and now, with conditions in Haiti worse than they’ve ever been, I want to take my commitment to helping my country to the highest level it can go. I can’t imagine a better way to ensure the development and growth of Haiti, and I worry that at this critical time if we do nothing, then nothing will be done. Now that our country has toppled, it’s a chance to rebuild from the bottom on up”.
Earlier in the day, Jean stepped down as chairman of his charity, Yéle Haiti, which raised $10 million for victims of the earthquake which hit Haiti earlier this year but was also accused of financial irregularities, leading Jean to admit that it had been “poorly run” while denying accusations that he had misappropriated finds from the organisation. Businessman Derek Q Johnson will replace him there.
Support for Jean is not universal, though. Early opposition came from his former Fugees bandmate, Pras Michel, who said via Twitter: “All Haitians around the world it’s going to take all of us to start this reconstruction for Haiti. Michel Martelly for president 2010! It’s official, the people are asking for it. I’m here in the belly of Haiti. I endorse Michel Martelly as the next president of Haiti!”
Also appearing on ‘Larry King Live’ was actor Sean Penn, who co-founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organisation after the earthquake and has been working in the country as manager of the organisation’s 55,000 person camp for those left homeless in the aftermath. He said: “Right now, I worry that this is a campaign that is more about a vision of flying around the world, talking to people. It’s certainly not one of the youth drafting him. I would be quite sure that this is an influence of corporations here in the United States and private individuals that may well have capitalised on his will to see himself flying around the world. What the Haitian people need now is a leader who’s genuinely willing to sacrifice”.
He continued: “What the Haitian people need now is a leader who is genuinely willing to sacrifice. I haven’t seen or heard anything of him in these last six months that I’ve been in Haiti. I think he’s an important voice. I hope he doesn’t sacrifice that voice by taking the eye off the very devastating realities on the ground”.
Amongst the other registered candidates is Jean’s uncle, Raymond Joseph, who is currently Haiti’s ambassador to the US. The election will take place on 28 Nov.