Lawmaker and family member say singer Wyclef Jean will run for president

By Jonathan M. Katz, AP
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wyclef Jean expected to run for Haiti president

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Singer Wyclef Jean plans to run for president of earthquake-ravaged Haiti and will announce his candidacy in the coming days, a former parliament leader and the entertainer’s brother said Tuesday.

Former Chamber of Deputies leader Pierre Eric Jean-Jacques told The Associated Press the Haiti-born hip hop artist and former Fugees frontman will run as part of his coalition in the Nov. 28 election.

After AP first reported the story, Jean’s brother, Samuel Jean, confirmed that the singer would announce his intentions in a televised interview from Haiti on Thursday after filing required documents with the electoral council.

“We all believe he meets the constitutional requirements and he can do it,” the brother said by phone from his consulting office in Los Angeles.

Jean’s spokeswoman, Cindy Tanenbaum, confirmed that the entertainer planned an announcement Thursday but said she did not know specifics. She added that Jean was preparing a political communications team.

Dozens of candidates are expected to compete for the presidency in the Nov. 28 contest, among them 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.

Controversy already surrounds the election as opponents accuse President Rene Preval of stacking the deck for an as-yet-unamed candidate of his recently formed Unity party. He has ignored calls from U.S. senators and others to reform the eight-member, presidentially approved electoral council ahead of the vote and ensure the participation of all parties.

The Organization of American States pledged support last week as the electoral council struggles to deal with the loss of thousands of polling places and a wrecked voter registry. The election will chose a president, 10 senators and 89 members of parliament’s lower house.

Jean-Jacques, who will be seeking to return to the currently dissolved Chamber of Deputies in the election, said Jean will be a candidate for a new coalition that calls itself Ansanm Nou Fo, which translates as “together we are strong” in Creole.

“Yes, we have an agreement (with Jean). But he’s the one who has to announce it first,” Jean-Jacques told AP, declining to elaborate on their political plans.

The singer’s brother did not confirm with which party the singer would be running.

Candidates for the Nov. 28 election must declare by Saturday.

The possibility remained that Jean could change his mind or be declared ineligible to run. He must prove to the electoral council that he has resided in Haiti for five consecutive years, own property in the country and have no other citizenship but Haitian.

Past officials have disqualified some candidates on technicalities while allowing others with apparent ineligibilities to seek office.

Jean was born outside Port-au-Prince but left as a child and grew up in Brooklyn.

The brother said that unlike much of the family, Jean has never held a U.S. passport. Advisers believe Jean’s residency requirement will be waived because he has been a presidentially appointed Haitian goodwill ambassador, excusing his infrequent time in Haiti over the last several years.

Jean was the frontman for The Fugees before going solo. He is known for such hit singles as “We Trying to Stay Alive” and “Gone Till November.” With the Fugees, he recorded the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling album “The Score.”

He is popular in Haiti for his music and for his work through his charity Yele Haiti, which raised more than $9 million after the Jan. 12 killed a government-estimated 300,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and knocked down most of the government ministries in the capital.

The organization was widely criticized for alleged financial irregularities after the quake, when scrutiny revealed that it had paid Jean to perform at fundraising events and bought advertising air time from a television station he co-owns, among other suspected improprieties.

Yele hired a new accounting firm after the allegations surfaced.

Rumors have swirled for years that Jean would run for president. The singer has always been careful not to rule out a run for the office and recorded a song titled “If I Was President,” although its references to war and billion-dollar spending seem to allude to the U.S. rather than Haiti.

In recent weeks Jean’s Twitter feed has been awash with original and re-tweeted demands for transparent elections, proposals for reducing Haiti’s chronic poverty and calls to defend camps of the estimated 1.6 million people made homeless by the quake from forced eviction.

Jean’s political profile is unknown. Living overseas he has avoided many of the alliances and sometimes bloody rivalries that define Haitian politics. He cuts a strikingly different profile than the generals, technocrats and priest who have led it in recent years, speaking little French and Haitian Creole with a Diaspora accent.

He has said he voted for President Rene Preval in 2006, a year before the two-term president made him an ambassador. Preval is barred by the constitution from running again.

Reaction to Jean’s possible candidacy has been divided as Haitians debate the pluses and minuses of his inexperience.

“I will give him my vote. All these people who have been in Haiti haven’t done anything for us,” said Jean Leuis, a 22-year-old bread vendor.

Bosejour Leconte, a 34-year-old phone card seller who has been living in a tent since the earthquake, thought otherwise.

“I don’t think he has the qualifications to be president. I’d rather vote for someone that has political experience,” he said.

Jean-Jacques and other politicians, including a senator from ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party — which is not expected to be allowed to participate in the election — formed the Ansanm Nou Fo coalition ahead of February elections that were canceled because of the earthquake.

Haiti’s next president will face an enormous task. Presidents have only rarely completed a constitutional five-year term — most in history have been overthrown, assassinated, declared themselves “president-for-life” or some combination of the three.

Associated Press Writer Evens Sanon contributed to this report.

will not be displayed