BREAKING: Wyclef Jean to Run for President of Haiti

Photo: Gustavo Caballero of Getty Images via the Washington Post

UPDATE, Thursday August 5, 2010: Wyclef Jean has relinquished his role as CEO of the Yèle Haiti Foundation to focus on his presidential campaign. Read his open letter in the Huffington Post explaining why he decided to—rather, why he wants to—run for President.

This just in: Wyclef Jean has announced his decision to run for President of Haiti. Rumors of his candidacy have been spot-on. Party affiliation? Check (the reformist Ensemble Nous Faut—We Must Do It Together, according to Chamber of Deputies leader Pierre Eric Jean-Jacques). Campaign slogan? Check. (Face à Face). Determination to win and do good? Double check.

In an interview with Time, Jean communicated that “if not for the earthquake, I probably would have waited another 10 years before doing this,” adding that if he could not “take five years out to serve my country as President, then everything I’ve been singing about, like equal rights, doesn’t mean anything.”

Although his Presidential aspirations have been pronounced “pretty weird,” Ernie Smith at the Short Form Blog notes the similarities between the upcoming November election and California’s gubernatorial race in 2003, which inaugurated Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political career. (Jean looks to U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Czech President Václav Havel as paradigms of artists-turned-politicians.)

In addition, Smith predicts that despite the fact that Jean’s political experience—or lack thereof—rivals that of Alvin Greene, his “high profile, good will” and concomitant charisma may be a boon for the Haitian people.

Tim Padgett at Time agrees. Considering that half of Haiti’s population is under 25, Jean’s pop-culture celebrity status, an asset “as golden as a rapper’s chains,” will lead to uncharacteristically high youth electoral participation. He fully understands that not only does Haiti have an “enormous youth population,” but also it “doesn’t believe in [its] politicians anymore.” In a video posted on Time.com, Jean declared that he had been “drafted by the youth.”

So despite the fact that he is fluent in neither French nor Creole, both of Haiti’s official languages, “most people don’t care if the President speaks fluent Creole…given the awful situation in Haiti” observes Marvel Dandin, a popular Port-au-Prince radio broadcaster.

So what are his chances of winning?

Going in his favor, we have his renown as a musician, which will appeal to the disenchanted—to put it mildly—youth. Furthermore, he has the Haitian diaspora in the U.S., which numbers about 800,00o.

There are, however, considerable barriers to election. For example, his management skills have been questioned when the Yèle Haiti Foundation was embroiled in controversy over spotty bookkeeping. Furthermore, Haiti’s elite will likely be strongly opposed to President Wyclef Jean, and they will make full use of all the legal hurdles they can throw in his path.

The Haitian constitution mandates that in order to be President, one must own property in Haiti, lived in Haiti for five consecutive years (Jean emigrated the U.S. at age nine) and never have been a citizen of another country (Jean is a U.S. resident, not a citizen).

If he manages to get cleared as an eligible political candidate, he will have to navigate the venal waters that pervade Haitian politics. The Washington Post reports that no other candidate has declared his intentions (the deadline is August 7), but rumors abound that President René Préval, who has a reputation for political sketchiness, is paving the way for a candidate from his Unity party. Other rumored opponents include Jean’s own uncle Raymond Joseph, currently the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., former prime ministers, mayors and even the popular Haitian musician celebrity Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly.

Wyclef Jean is to make the groundbreaking announcement himself on Larry King Live this Thursday at 9 pm EST.

Oh, and it might be interesting to monitor updates via Wyclef’s Facebook page, which has been spouting policy priorities preceded by “AFACeAFACe”—presumably an eye-catching variation of his party slogan “Face à Face.”

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