Wyclef Jean’s disqualification leaves Haiti in political uncertainty

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First Wyclef Jean urged his supporters to respect last week’s decision by Haiti’s electoral council that he cannot run for president of the earthquake-hobbled Caribbean nation.

Then this week, after announcing he would appeal the council’s ruling, the Haitian American hip-hop singer sent out a message in Creole accusing the council of trickery.

“Do you intend to continue supporting people who have no respect for Haiti’s Constitution?” read the message on his Twitter account, which was later translated into English. “Do you continue to support people violating the right of the person who [do] not believe in the value of mankind, that every man is a man, and everybody has to live decently?”

“Remember that you hold your destiny.”

In the past, such words from a popular figure might have set off a firestorm in Port-au- Prince. Yet nothing happened. No giant demonstrations. No barricades of burning tires. No clashes with police or U.N. peacekeepers.

The spectacle of Jean’s candidacy, which brought a moment of verve to the presidential election campaign, dissipated into a vacuum.

Now, no one seems to know what’s next, whether Jean will stay in the picture, and if not, what candidate may win the support of Haiti’s vast dispossessed base.

“We’re waiting for Wyclef to say what to do,” said Manoucheki Dorvil, 23, in a telephone interview from a sprawling tent camp on Delmas 33 road in Port-au-Prince. The only other candidate she knew was singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly.

Major Etuduer, 40, said he was furious that Jean was excluded from the list of candidates, but expected that any protests would be peaceful.

“All these people living in the tents, we don’t want to burn tires,” he said. “Maybe all the internationals here to help would leave. We’re not going to vote for anyone who tells us to do that.”

Others said any protest could end up being worse than the 2006 election when the capital was paralyzed by barricades for days.

Jean insists that’s not his intention.

“Those who fear me call me a populist,” Jean said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The day they announced the list of candidates, they had so much security. They thought the country was going to erupt.... Speculation was that I’d have burning tires and barricades. That is not my group.”

Jean said his message in Creole was not meant to cause any upheaval, and the people clearly knew that.

“My brother, you’re speaking to Wyclef here,” he said. “Be clear, I’m not here to disturb the Haitian election.”

Still, he accuses the election council of corruption and President Rene Preval, whom he once supported, of pulling the strings to have a puppet replace him in the National Palace.

“He’s trying to be like Putin in Russia,” Jean said.

The council did not explain its decision to disqualify Jean or 14 other potential candidates from the list of 35. The prevailing belief is that the decision was based on Wyclef’s principal residence being in New Jersey. Jean left Haiti as a 9-year-old, and although he has returned often before and after the earthquake, the Haitian Constitution requires that a candidate be a resident for five years.

Jean says he has maintained a residence in Haiti for many years, and that a Haitian judge provided an affidavit that he was a resident.

Even some political observers who believe Jean is clearly unqualified to run Haiti also believe that the council’s decision was suspect.

Robert Fatton, a University of Virginia professor and scholar of Haitian politics, said he was disturbed by Jean’s messianic tendencies. “He says, ‘I’ve been chosen.’ Even on CNN, he said, ‘I’ve been drafted by the youth.’ He talks about himself in the third person.”

Still, Fatton said, the council made exceptions for such candidates as former Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who never received a required “discharge” from the government asserting that he had served in good faith. “My view is the decision was political, although they had the technical justification to do so,” he said.

Fatton said the political, intellectual and economic elite in Haiti were threatened by Jean’s candidacy.

“He’s a wild card,” Fatton said. “The political class had no interest in seeing Wyclef run. My feeling is that he was either going to collapse very quickly or overwhelm the other candidates. They didn’t want to take that risk.”

With Jean disqualified, Fatton said, “the person who gets the backing of Preval will be the next president.”