Hip hop star Wyclef Jean (widely known simply as Wyclef) will run for president of Haiti, according to reports. The announcement sets the stage for an interfamily election battle between Wyclef and his uncle, a former ambassador to the United States.
Analysts are predicting that Wyclef could parlay his star power and enormous popularity with the nation's youth into a solid electoral victory. Even more valuable than being a three-time Grammy Award-winning musician, though, says Eduardo Gamarra of Florida International University, is Wyclef's cash reserves.
"He’s a very, very strong candidate," the political science professor says. "Especially when nobody else has the resources."
Mr. Jean-Jacques, as the former leader of the country’s Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Haiti's parliament), is something akin to former House majority leader Newt Gingrich, though not ideologically. He now heads the one-year-old coalition party Ensemble Nous Faut (We Must Do It Together) that is putting forward Wyclef as its presidential candidate. The election law requires every candidate to register with a political party.
Wyclef, who was appointed Haiti's ambassador-at-large in 2007, has long hinted that he might run for president. In a surprising development, however, last week his uncle, Raymond Joseph, announced his candidacy in an interview with the Monitor, brushing aside any heated competition between relatives.
“We are family. And we won’t allow politics to divide,” says Mr. Joseph, who resigned as ambassador on Aug. 1 to begin his presidential campaign.
Wyclef is seen by many as the stronger candidate. But while the singer is popular in Haiti, especially among the young, many Haitians have told the Monitor that Wyclef might do better to stick with music.
“It’s difficult for Haitians to have any faith in the election, we are so used to politicians taking advantage of us,” Anise Ulysse, a 27-year-old who shrugged at the prospect of the singer running, told the Monitor last week. She said she will not vote for anyone. “The people living on the streets have other things to think about.”
Can he really run?
It also remains in question whether Wyclef is eligible to run for president (see related article). The Haitian Constitution requires a president to have lived in the country for five consecutive years previous to the election and have always held Haitian citizenship. Wyclef was born in Haiti, but moved to the US at age 9.
In this video interview with TIME magazine, Wyclef admits that his eligibility will be challenged. “They’re about to attack me in the next two weeks.... They think they’re going to get me with the dual citizenship thing. But I have a Haitian passport with a green card."
Yet such a dispute may also prove a political benefit to Wyclef. More than 500,000 Haitian-born people are believed to live in the US alone, and TIME magazine argues that Wyclef could well bridge the divide between Haiti's domestic population and diaspora.
It's tempting to dismiss this as flaky performance art, a publicity stunt from the same guy who just a few years ago recorded a number called "President" that included the refrain "If I was President." But Jean's chances as well as his motives seem solid. And there are good reasons for Haitians – and the US-led international donor community, which is bankrolling Haiti's long slog to the 21st century – to take this particular hip-hop politician seriously. Pop-culture celebrity hardly disqualifies you from high office today. (The last time I looked, an action hero was still running California.) And in Haiti, where half the population of about 9 million is under age 25, it's an asset as golden as a rapper's chains. Amid Haiti's gray postquake rubble, Jean is far more popular with that young cohort than their chronically corrupt and inept mainstream politicians are, and he'll likely galvanize youth participation in the election.
Read the full article at TIME magazine.
"Running on a diaspora agenda is not going to gain him votes domestically," counters Professor Gamarra, adding that much remains to be seen about Wyclef's political and managerial skills. "If I was looking at it as a Haitian voter, I would look at it as: Who can guide me out of this crisis?"
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