Is Wyclef Jean eligible to run for president of Haiti?

Wyclef Jean is rumored to be running for president of Haiti. The Haiti Constitution gives six clear requirements for becoming president, however, and Wyclef may not meet them all.

By , Staff writer

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    Recording artist Wylclef Jean, left, is interviewed by host Stuart Varney on the "Varney and Company" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York, July 23. Wyclef Jean is rumored to be running for president of Haiti.
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Wyclef Jean has casually hinted that he may run for president of Haiti before, but he heightened speculation on the matter on Tuesday when he said he is mulling whether to formally announce his candidacy for the Nov. 28 vote.

“At this time, Wyclef Jean has not announced his intent to run for Haitian president," the Jean Family said in a statement today. "If and when a decision is made, media will be alerted immediately.”

But beyond “will he?” is the question of “can he?”

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Dr. Wyclef (in May he received an honorary doctorate from Western Connecticut State University) has already qualified to be a diplomat for the Haitian government. The Grammy Award-winning musician, whose full name is Nel Ust Wycliffe Jean, was appointed ambassador-at-large in 2007.

But the Haitian Constitution gives six specific requirements for president, and it remains unclear if Wyclef meets them all.

Constitutional requirements

Article 135 of the Constitution states that the president must be at least 35 years old; a native-born Haitian and have never renounced Haitian nationality; the owner in Haiti of at least one real property and have his habitual residence in the country; have been relieved of this responsibilities if he has been handling public funds; have resided in the country for five consecutive years before the election; and have never been sentenced to death, personal restraint, or penal servitude or lost of civil rights for a crime.

Wyclef appears to meet at least five of the six requirements, according to the Haitian Ambassador to the United States, who also happens to be Wyclef’s uncle.

Wyclef meets most requirements

Born on Oct. 17, 1972, Wyclef will be 38 on election day this November.

Although he moved to the United States as a child and grew up in Brooklyn and Newark, Wyclef has always retained his Haitian citizenship, says Ambassador Raymond Joseph.

“He is not a US citizen and has never been,” Ambassador Joseph told the Monitor in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Fulfilling a third category, Wyclef owns a home and businesses in Haiti, according to Ambassador Joseph. Wyclef purchased the Haitian television station Telemax in early 2006.

Wyclef does not hold public office and therefore does not handle public funds. His charity, Yele, is a registered nonprofit charitable organization with tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.

A Monitor search of public archives does not show Wyclef having ever been sentenced to death, personal restraint, or penal servitude or lost civil rights for a crime. In 2002, during a protest with fellow musicians P Diddy and Alicia Keys against proposed budget cuts at New York City public schools, he was arrested and briefly jailed for disorderly conduct. But this would not block a presidential run.

"I didn't go to prison for no drugs, no guns, or whatever. I went to prison because I believe they shouldn't cut the budget... when it comes for protesting for the right cause, that's what I'm all about. I'm a revolutionary," he told BBC News shortly afterward.

Potential roadblock: residence

However, one category may throw a wrench in any potential run for Haiti's highest office.

Wyclef spends much time in the United States, and it is unclear if his stints living in Haiti will qualify him for having resided in the country for five consecutive years before the election.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) will rule on this if Wyclef decides to run for president, says Ambassador Joseph, who has consulted his nephew on his political plans.

“We talked about this – we talk all the time,” says Joseph, declining to divulge more.

He notes that one attribute of a president that is not constitutionally required, but is Wyclef’s greatest asset, is his popularity. “He is sort of a spokesperson for a large segment of Haiti’s youth,” he says.

Is there any Haitian more popular?

“I don’t think so,” the ambassador says.

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