Wyclef Jean considering standing for president of Haiti

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wyclef Jean at a benefit in 2008.
Image: Seher Sikandar.

Following months of rumours, musician Wyclef Jean today confirmed that he is considering standing for the presidency of Haiti in the country's November elections. A statement from his family and verified by his spokeswoman said that the 37-year-old had not yet announced his intention to run, but that media would be informed "if and when a decision is made".

Jean, whose full name is Nel Ust Wycliffe Jean, is seen as popular among young Haitians. With current President René Préval unable to stand for re-election, so far no one has emerged as a clear successor. Despite growing up in the United States and becoming an award-winning rapper there, Jean was born near Port-au-Prince. He has already been appointed as a roving ambassador for his birth country and is the founder of the Yéle Haiti Foundation. He was at the forefront of fund-raising efforts following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January, but his charity faced allegations of financial irregularities.

Rumours that he would stand for president had been circulating for months, but, until today's statement, had been flatly denied.

"Wyclef's commitment to his homeland and its youth is boundless", said the statement from the Jean family, "and he will remain its greatest supporter regardless of whether he is part of the government moving forward."

"At this time, Wyclef Jean has not announced his intent to run for Haitian president. If and when a decision is made, media will be alerted immediately."

Michael Shifter of think tank Inter-American Dialogue said that the race was "wide open" but that Jean would be "a long-shot". Acknowledging Jean's popularity, he pointed out that the musician was "unaccustomed to the rough and tumble of Haitian politics."

It is unclear whether Jean would be constitutionally able to become President. The constitution of Haiti lays out six conditions for candidates:

To be elected President of the Republic of Haiti, a candidate must:

a. Be a native-born Haitian and never have renounced Haitian nationality;
b. Have attained thirty-five (35) years of age by the election day;
c. Enjoy civil and political rights and never have been sentenced to death, personal restraint or penal servitude or the loss of civil rights for a crime of ordinary law;
d. Be the owner in Haiti of at least one real property and have his habitual residence in the country;
e. Have resided in the country for five (5) consecutive years before the date of the elections;
f. Have been relieved of his responsibilities if he has been handling public funds.

Whilst Jean is thought to meet most of these criteria, The Guardian reports that the rapper is "understood to have US citizenship", and that this would make him ineligible. This was denied by Jean's uncle Raymond Joseph, who is also Haitian Ambassador to the United States.

"He is not a US citizen and has never been," Joseph told the Christian Science Monitor. The ambassador claimed that Jean had always remained a Haitian citizen.

Even then, it is unclear whether Jean will qualify under the residence clause, having spent much of his life in the United States. Ambassador Joseph admitted that this would be up to the Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council to decide.


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