Wyclef Jean appealing Haiti election ruling, says 'trickery' used

Wyclef Jean's lawyers announced the hip-hop star is appealing the ruling that barred him from running for president. The Haiti election commission's political independence has been questioned before.

By , Correspondent

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    Haiti's presidential candidate and hip hop singer Wyclef Jean, left, talks to a local journalist in Croix de Bouquets, Haiti, Thursday. Jean is appealing the ruling that excluded him from running for president of Haiti.
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Wyclef Jean is appealing the ruling that excluded him from running for Haiti president, his lawyers announced in a press conference today in Port-au-Prince. Joining in the appeal is his uncle, the former ambassador to the United States, who was another of the 15 presidential hopefuls to be rejected Friday.

“Mr. Wyclef’s rights have been violated,” said Jean Ronel Senatus, one of eight lawyers representing Jean.

The Haiti election commission (CEP) gave no reasons for rejecting the candidates. It is believed that Jean was excluded because he has not lived in Haiti consistently for the past five years, which is a constitutional requirement for all presidential candidates.

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But Jean's lawyers have argued that he is a regular resident of Croix-des-Bouquets on the capital’s outskirts, where he was born and raised before moving to America at age nine. “Mr. Wyclef has regular papers proving his residency,” Mr. Senatus said of his client, who left Haiti for New York on Monday.

The legal team said they will appeal to the Supreme Court, the Superior Court of Accounts, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an independent body devoted to the promotion of basic rights and freedoms in the Americas. What this might accomplish is unclear, since a CEP spokesperson told the Monitor on Monday that, according to the Constitution, the commission’s decision cannot be appealed.

Accusations of 'trickery'

It is unclear what sparked Jean to initially accept, and now contest, the CEP ruling. On Monday he questioned the commission’s legitimacy, saying he was warned that "trickery would be used to block me."

“The Provisional Electoral Council has proven that they have violated the Constitution for the benefit of their mistresses and their friends leading a life of luxury with the people’s money,” Jean said in the statement. He later changed the word “mistresses” to “friends.”

Pierre Eric Jean-Jacques, head of the Viv Ansanm (Live Together) party under whose banner Jean hopes to run, accused the CEP of acting under political pressure.

"This is not a technical decision, it’s an entirely political decision,” Mr. Jean-Jacques said at the press conference today. “This decision has been taken by those in power, because they don’t want him to participate in this election.”

Wyclef's uncle also to appeal

Jean was not the only one to contest the ruling. His uncle and former Ambassador to the US Raymond Joseph – who first announced his candidacy to the Monitor – was also rejected, although his diplomatic status exempted him from the residency requirement. He and at least three more candidates are also planning to present an appeal, according to an independent website monitoring the election.

Mr. Joseph held a press conference with his lawyers shortly after his nephew’s, calling on the CEP to explain why he was excluded and promising an appeal.

“This was an arbitrary decision that cannot be accepted,” Joseph told reporters, adding that he is currently negotiating with the other rejected candidates to present a common front against the CEP’s decision.

The former ambassador also called on international observers to follow the matter closely, especially as the November election will be heavily financed by the international community, including the US. The election is expected to cost some $29 million.

“Your money cannot be spent arbitrarily,” Joseph said.

CEP's credibility questioned in past

Others without political aspirations have raised concerns about the election commission’s legitimacy. “Haiti’s CEP, and consequently the candidates elected in its elections, suffer from a lack of credibility,” the independent Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), a grassroots network of Haitian and international lawyers, said in a recent statement.

IJDH argued that the current CEP was established following improper procedure, which undermined its political independence. The group said that the electoral body has improperly excluded popular parties and candidates in the past, including former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas. The party was excluded once again this summer, at an earlier phase in the CEP screening process, which left 14 parties off the ballot.

IJDH spokesman Brian Concannon says that Jean's exclusion appears justified based on the residency requirement. But he adds that Jean's fight might bring overdue attention to the election commission's controversial rulings.

“It is distressing to see so much international concern over a candidate who is clearly ineligible and has never held elected office,” Conannon says about the rejection of Wyclef Jean’s candidacy. “But the CEP has excluded Fanmi Lavalas from the legislative component of the elections without legal justification, so in the absence of a clear explanation for the presidential exclusions, people left out can be justifiably suspicious.”

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