Wyclef awaits verdict on presidency

August 20, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 20 – Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean waited to learn Friday from an electoral council whether he meets the legal requirements to run for the presidency of his earthquake-battered homeland.

The council is due to release a list Friday of all those qualified to run for the top post, after postponing the announcement on Tuesday.

Thirty-four people are seeking to run for the presidency but the candidacies of nine of them, including Jean, are being challenged.

Potential obstacles to Jean\’s bid include his residency status, because he lives primarily in the United States, and questions about back taxes he owes in America.

The 40-year-old music mogul, best known for his time as a member of The Fugees, met privately Thursday with Haitian President Rene Preval, who is barred from standing for another term in the November 28 elections.

"Clef saw President Preval today and awaits answers tomorrow," Marian Salzman, a spokesman for the Grammy-winning performer, told AFP Thursday.

Jean released a picture on micro-blogging site Twitter in which he and Preval smiled and held hands together. He gave no details of their discussions, but said "we had a great meeting."

"I am inspired by President Obama. Communication is key," Jean tweeted, saying that he voted in the last election for Preval who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term.

In a late Thursday interview broadcast on CNN, Jean said he was optimistic.

"They\’re going to make the final decision. So, with all of the youth in Haiti, we\’re anticipating that it\’s looking good for us."

Jean also said that Preval promised to provide more security after learning that the star had received "six or seven" death threats — but that it was not necessary.

"I\’m actually comfortable where I\’m at right now. I\’m in my hometown, and I\’m comfortable," he told CNN.

Jean has promised to use his celebrity status to seek a brighter future for long impoverished Haiti, whose already serious problems were multiplied by a January 12 earthquake that killed at least 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

But the singer\’s qualifications for the job have been questioned, and it is unclear whether he can claim the requisite residency in the country.

He argues he has maintained property in Haiti for more than five years, and that his appointment by Preval as a roving ambassador required him to be abroad.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Jean said "regardless of what\’s going on with my candidacy," he wanted to remind the international community that Haiti was struggling to recovery from the January 12 quake.

"This is not just a Haitian crisis; this is an international crisis," he said.

Jean said that he had a plan "to make Haiti once again the \’pearl of the Antilles\’" by asking "all the Haitians living abroad to invest 10 dollars each, and for this investment each person will get a share in a project, whether it be roads, schools, hospitals, airports, stores, even hotels or movie theaters. These are all things our country needs to flourish."

Jean is hugely popular among Haiti\’s youth, and some 300 of his supporters marched in heavy rain outside the country\’s electoral office Thursday.

"We are here to defend a just cause — Wyclef Jean is a Haitian native, he is the candidate of the people, and we want him as our president. He should be in the electoral race," said one young demonstrator.

But others have questioned Jean\’s qualifications and intentions.

US actor Sean Penn, who runs a 55,000-person tent camp for the homeless in Haiti, and others have accused Jean of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised after the earthquake for a charity he ran.

"He has been virtually silent for those of us in Haiti; he has been a non-presence," Penn told CNN in an interview earlier this month.

In a report Tuesday, The New York Times spotlighted a history of poor financial management at Jean\’s Yele Haiti charity, including a 250,000-dollar payment it made to a television station that the singer and a cousin had recently acquired.

In a statement, Jean acknowledged "missteps" at the charity before the earthquake but said claims of misappropriated funds were an "outright falsity."

"Unhappy former employees, old rumors and long negated claims are simply distractions at this crucial juncture, when my advisers and I need total focus on the Haitian situation," he said.



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