Port-au-Prince: Hip hop artist and presidential hopeful Wyclef Jean said on Saturday that as leader he would work to change Haiti`s Constitution to allow dual citizenship and give many Haitians living abroad the right to vote in their homeland.
The issue is central in Haiti where hundreds of thousands have emigrated to flee poverty and the money they send to relatives back home is a vital source of income in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation.
Currently, Haitians who emigrate must renounce their Haitian citizenship if they become citizens of another country, making them unable to vote or run for office in their homeland. Jean himself left Haiti for New York City when he was nine, but never sought US citizenship.
The former Fugees frontman said that his presidency would be a "bridge" between the Haitians abroad and those living in the country.
"The future is dual citizenship," he said, adding that many countries, including the neighbouring Dominican Republic, allow citizens to hold two passports.
Haitians abroad "should have the right to vote in their country”, especially since they send billions in remittances to family members.
"If they are the ones who keep this country alive, they should have some kind of say on what kind of government structure there is," the 40-year-old singer said.
Jean arrived in Haiti after giving a concert in Belgium. He said it might be one of his last performances for five years if elected.
The singer, who appeared relaxed and was wearing a blue Adidas track suit and headphones around his neck, touched on issues of security, former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide and on what being a celebrity has taught him about politics.
"Celebrity has taught me that politics is politricks," he said. "The fact that I`m coming with this with fresh eyes but not naive ears, I think that`s a good start."
But he spent most of the interview discussing the Haitian Diaspora, concentrated mainly in Miami, New York, Paris and Montreal.
People in Haiti have long relied on family and friends abroad to make ends meet. Remittances are the main source of income in the country of more than nine million people, 70 percent of whom are unemployed and 90 percent of whom live in poverty.
According to a survey for the Inter-American Development Bank, 33 percent of Haitians receive cash from abroad and nearly 75 percent of the money is spent on food, housing, utilities and clothing. Food and other gifts are also sent.
The average remittance in Haiti is about USD 150 and those who receive them typically get about 10 transfers a year, for an average total of USD 1,500, the IDB survey shows. A Haitian`s per-capita income in 2008 was about USD 1,300, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Jean noted that over a five-year period, the remittances total almost the same amount that has been so far pledged by donors to help reconstruct Haiti.
"To save the country, it`s not just going to take aid," he said. "It`s going to take investment. That`s the message."
To be sure, Jean himself has a big hurdle to clear before he actually campaigns for office.
An eight-member provisional electoral council is scheduled to decide on Tuesday whether Jean will even be listed on the November 28 Presidential Election. According to the country`s Constitution, Haitian presidents must have lived in the country at least five consecutive years before election day.