Port-au-Prince: Singer Wyclef Jean officially announced his bid to be president of Haiti to a roaring crowd of supporters on Thursday, thrusting himself into a contentious race to lead an impoverished country reeling from a devastating earthquake.
At one point, the hip hop artist-turned-politician bodysurfed on the hands of bandana-waving backers in Haiti's capital and stepped onto a speaker truck to address the crowd of hundreds. Jean had submitted his candidacy papers 10 minutes before the provisional electoral office closed.
"America has Barack Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean," shouted Jean, who was born in Haiti but raised in Brooklyn, NY. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts distributed by supporters.
Carrying his wailing 5-year-old daughter in his arms, Jean said: "It's a moment in time and in history. It's very emotional."
The former Fugees frontman enters a highly competitive and crowded race for a difficult and dangerous job. Only one person has completed a democratically elected 5-year term in Haiti's history — current President Rene Preval — who is poised to do it again and hand it off to an elected successor.
The winner of the November 28 general elections inherits a destroyed capital, 1.6 million homeless people and countless groups fighting over billions of dollars in international reconstruction funds pledged after a January earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people.
Jean originally planned to join the coalition of Pierre Eric Jean-Jacques, former Chamber of Deputies leader. But he switched at the last minute to Jean-Jacques' brother's party to make room for government planner Leslie Voltaire in Jean-Jaques' coalition.
The switch is not expected to affect Jean's chances.
If Jean's candidacy is approved, he will face several candidates who lack his international fame but have more political clout. Among the most formidable is ousted ex-prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who secured the backing of President Rene Preval's powerful Unity party this week. Preval is barred from running by The constitution.
An eight-member board reviews would-be candidates and verifies whether they meet all the constitutional requirements, including having lived in Haiti for five consecutive years leading up to the election and never having held foreign citizenship. The list of official candidates will be published on August 17.
Jean's US upbringing could be a roadblock to his candidacy, but the singer says his appointment as a roving ambassador by Preval in 2007 exempts him from the residency requirement.
The singer was born on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince but left the country as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He gained fame as a member of the Fugees and went on to have a successful solo career. 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'.
First Published: Friday, August 06, 2010, 12:59