Wyclef Jean to run for president of Haiti

2010-08-04 08:57

Wyclef Jean’s plans to run for president in Haiti are bound to make entertainment headlines, but the hip-hop artist’s brother knows that trying to take charge of this earthquake-devastated and politically unstable country is a deadly serious affair.

Schoolhouse charts of past leaders are crowded with months-long presidencies and group shots of the military juntas that overthrew them.

Heads of state have been flown into exile, crowned themselves emperor or been killed more often than they have completed constitutional five-year terms.

One president was torn limb from limb by an angry mob.

Whoever wins the November 28 election will face the Herculean task of rebuilding after the January 12 earthquake that killed 300 000 people, while managing billions in international reconstruction dollars amid feuding officials, families and 1.6 million homeless.

Jean is expected to announce his bid for the presidency tomorrow.

After the Associated Press first reported that an announcement was coming, the singer’s brother, Samuel Jean, said the Haitian-American family was going into the process with its eyes open and breath held.

“It’s not something that was taken lightly. It’s not a joke. It’s something very, very serious,” the younger Jean said by phone from his consultancy office in Los Angeles.

“It is different for us, but we are proud of him and we are going to support him in any way we can.”

The former member of The Fugees was born on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, but grew up in Brooklyn.

His published age is 37, but his 39-year-old brother said that in fact Wyclef is 40, ascribing the confusion in part to their history as immigrants and Haiti’s often confusing record-keeping.

Scores of candidates are expected to compete for the presidency.

Among them is Jean’s uncle, Raymond Joseph, who is Haiti’s ambassador in Washington.

Other likely candidates include former prime ministers, mayors and another popular Haitian musician, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly.

Former Chamber of Deputies leader Pierre Eric Jean-Jacques said the hip-hop artist will run as part of his coalition in the election.

Jean’s brother said he could not immediately confirm what party the singer would run with.

Controversy already surrounds the election, as opponents accuse President Rene Preval of stacking the deck for an as-yet-unnamed candidate of his recently formed Unity party.

He has ignored calls from US senators and others to reform the eight-member, presidentially approved electoral council ahead of the vote and ensure the participation of all parties.

The last election Preval oversaw, a 2009 legislative contest, was held after more than a year and a half of delays and marred by an extremely low turnout, allegations of fraud and a few outbursts of violence.

The party of ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was flown into African exile in 2004 aboard a US plane, was barred from running based on a technicality.

It is expected to be banned again this year.

Questions surround Jean’s bid as well.

He must prove he has resided in Haiti for five consecutive years, owns property in the country and has no other citizenship but Haitian.

His brother said that unlike much of the family, Jean has never held a US passport.

He said he believed that Jean’s residency requirement would be waived because he had been a presidentially appointed Haitian goodwill ambassador since 2007.

Jean would have to deal with voters undecided on how to think about Haitians abroad.

Many families are dependent on successful overseas relatives for remittances, but often seem them as near foreigners.

The singer’s American accented Creole and lack of French will be constant reminders he did not grow up here.

He will also have to field questions about his Yele Haiti charity, which raised more than $9 million after the quake.

The organisation was widely criticised for alleged financial irregularities after the quake.

Yele hired a new accounting firm after the allegations surfaced.

“I think what he demonstrated in Yele was leadership. When a problem was brought to his attention, he immediately dealt with it openly and transparently,” Samuel Jean said.

A businessman named Kesner Valmacy yesterday registered himself to run for president.

He said he welcomed Jean as a competitor, but his overseas credentials should disqualify him.

“He’s a very successful man in the United States, but Haiti is very complicated,” Valmacy said.

Nearby a 28-year-old woman who has never held a job said Jean’s youth and outsider status were attractive.

In a Haitian twist, she compared his age favourably to former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who was so named because he succeeded his father at the age of 19, just a few years before the Jeans’ parents yanked them from the oppressive country.

“Haiti needs something new. I’ll vote for him,” said the woman, Michelle Voma.

While still weighing his options last month, Wyclef told AP that he saw his role in the upcoming election as ensuring that young people participates in the country’s rebuilding.

“I don’t want to be a puppet. I just want to be able to do more,” the artist said.

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