PORT-AU-PRINCE - At Final Call press time, lawyers for Haitian-born entertainer Wyclef Jean had filed an appeal contesting the decision by Haiti's election commission to reject the rap star's application to appear on the Nov. 28 presidential ballot.
Mr. Jean, along with 14 others, was excluded from an original field of 34 by the commission without explanation. Election officials did say the decision was final.
“All I know is that according to the 1987 Constitution, the CEP's decision is final and there can be no appeal,” said Pierre Thibolt, communications director for CEP, to the media.
“We have met all the requirements set by the laws,” exclaimed Wyclef in an Aug. 22 post via Twitter. “And the law must be respected,” he said.
The singer's celebrity along with his humanitarian work pose a “serious” challenge for bourgeois families and Haiti's elite.
His campaign has ignited youth and spurred movements on the ground unlike any since that of exiled President Jean Bertrand Aristide and Wyclef clearly led the field as the potential front-runner, say observers. “Why else would President Rene Preval meet with him and not the other candidates?” asked Haitian-American Pastor Calherbe Monel in an interview with The Final Call.
“President Preval met with Wyclef the day before the commission's decision,” said the pastor. That opportunity was not afforded to anyone else, he said, convinced that President Preval who never talked about the nature of the meeting, understood something about the possibility of a Wyclef administration.
“Unfortunately he has (Wyclef) become the test for the Haitian Diaspora. He comes fresh and as an outsider. He has his own money so financially there is no personal gain. He has access to resources internationally speaking and these are the things we in the Diaspora can bring to the table for Haiti,” said Pastor Monel. “However, the power-elite of Haiti are very resentful toward this kind of person and it makes the use of the Constitution a double-edged sword. The stipulation of having to be in the country five consecutive years, makes it very hard” for Haitians living outside the country to overcome, he said.
“In addition to the fact that there is a constitutional question, there is also the fact that this Haitian oligarchy would not want this new, sort of Americanized hip hop artist who has a connection,” said Elizi Danto, director of Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network.
“Anyone who has a connection with the populace who might in anyway give the populace a voice in Haiti—just like President Aristide—is not amenable to the Haiti oligarchy.”
“I think that it is a huge mistake not to have the Haitian Diaspora plugged in a major way, including the notion of dual citizenship,” said Dr. Ron Daniels, founder of the Haiti Support Project, which has been doing development and education work in Haiti for 15 years.
“I believe it is just a matter of time before that happens,” he said, adding the Wyclef's inclusion in Noember elections was in his view “a long shot.” Still, Dr. Daniels said he hoped that amongst the remaining candidates, Wyclef would find a way to influence a platform and endorse a candidate.
Some question whether there should be an election when the country's 9.5 million inhabitants are still attempting to cope with the enormous impact of the Jan. 12 earthquake that has left nearly 2 million homeless and 98 percent of its rubble and debris on the ground of Port au Prince, the nation's capital.
“We just had an earthquake, the worst natural disaster in modern history. I would think that an election is the last thing the people need right now. The people of Haiti need a removal of the rubble. They need shelter so that they have a place to live and they need jobs, so that they can feed their children. So this election under occupation is now the center of attention and to us, it takes away from the international money laundering that is going on in the name of helping Haiti earthquake victims,” Ms. Danto said.
“Simultaneously, the little oligarchy, not wanting to give up Haiti as their (personal) cash cow, is very important to note. They do not want to give up their power. Right now, they control Haiti. They don't want to give up the government. Certainly Wyclef Jean presents them a whole new paradigm of people, who, comes from the masses; not the traditional light-skinned Haitian who is all about sucking the blood of the people and providing them nothing back. So, yes they would definitely not be one welcoming a Wyclef, they want to keep their little enclave going. That is a factor. I guess the question is are the Haiti oligarchy and the corporate interests one and the same?” she asked.
The hip-hop singer said Aug. 22 he is not abandoning his presidential bid just yet and will try to get the courts to overturn a decision disqualifying him from the race.
Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from his home in Croix des Bouquets in Haiti, Wyclef said his lawyers will file an appeal with the national electoral dispute office.
Wyclef said that he has a document “which shows everything is correct” and that he and his aides “feel that what is going on here has everything to do with Haitian politics.”
“They are trying to keep us out of the race,” he said, referring to Haiti's political establishment.
Haiti's elections board rejected Wyclef's candidacy Aug. 20—presumably because it decided he didn't meet residency requirements, although the board did not cite a specific reason. Under Haitian law, a presidential candidate must have lived in the country for five consecutive years leading up to the election.
Wyclef has argued that he was not required to comply with the law so strictly because after President Rene Preval appointed him as roving ambassador in 2007, he was allowed to travel and live outside the country.
Some officials in Haiti worried about political unrest among Wyclef supporters after his candidacy was rejected. But the singer asked his fans to stay calm, and there were no significant election-related protests or violence over the Aug. 20 weekend although rumors swirled about a large protest.
Many people in Wyclef's hometown of Croix des Bouquets—a suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince—cheered the singer in his quest for the presidency.
“I love what Wyclef is doing,” said Paul Jean Augustine, a 27-year-old mechanic. “We're ready to die for Clef, and without him there's no election. We are with him 100 percent.”
Although he issued a statement late Aug. 20 saying that “I respectfully accept the committee's final decision,” the 40-year-old singer said two days later that he was appealing the Haitian board's decision on the basis that it rejected his candidacy before the national electoral dispute office, or BCEN, could issue a final ruling on the residency issue.
Wyclef said that shortly after he filed his papers to run in the Nov. 28 election, two Haitian citizens challenged his candidacy, saying he had not met the residency requirements.
The BCEN ruled in his favor, Wyclef asserted, but the two citizens appealed the decision. The case was still pending when the Haitian elections board decided to disqualify me, the singer said.
It was not clear whether Wyclef's legal argument would hold up. Elections board spokesman Richardson Dumel said that as of Aug. 22 afternoon, he had not seen any paperwork from the candidate indicating an appeal, but he declined to comment further.
The board on Aug. 20 accepted 19 candidates and rejected 15. A spokesman read out the names of the approved and rejected candidates quickly at a late, hastily called news conference.
It would have helped both candidates and voters if the council had explained the basis of their decisions, said officials from the Joint Mission of Electoral Observation, a division of the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community.
“Regarding the 15 candidacies that were deemed ineligible, explications about the reasons for invalidating them would have contributed to the transparency of the process,” the OAS wrote in a news release.
“How in three months can an election take place when you have to register people with no identification cards? Or are they depending on the residents of the hierarchy who live in the hills on the borders of Port au Prince whose houses did not fall down, who have their voter registration cards?” asked Atty. Danto.
“The fact that (Wyclef) did not have five years of residency was the problem he really had no sustained time on the ground. Of course, he is appealing the decision and it will probably come out the same. Dumas Simeus, probably the wealthiest Haitian in America ran into a similir problem when he ran some years ago. He had more prominence than Wyclef and when he was rejected by the commission he appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the decision,” Dr, Daniels noted.
“I think that Wyclef was hoping against hope. He was banking on his Goodwill Ambassador status, but that was a stretch. Whether the rejection is a good thing or not, I am not sure. A lot of people, youth in particular are fired up and excited over him. But for me, though experience has never been the primary qualification—Wyclef has a vision, but he has not articulated his platform. He will probably stay engaged in the process. I think the best thing for him to do probably is to examine the field of candidates and use his leverage as a way to decide who the next president will be.”
Mr. Daniels also expressed dismay over the election focus and its fanfare taking away from alleviating the suffering of the masses of Haitian people.
“Over the years Haiti has had much political strife.The government right now needs a lot of political stability. They lost so many people in the earthquake that work for the government,”said Nehanda Sankofara, president and co-founder of the humanitarian group Mothers for Africa, which also does work in Haiti. “They need a strong leader and I don't know Wyclef that well. I love his music but I don't know what his mind is politically. I know he's conquered at least 70 percent of the battle in terms of what his love is for his people, because you gotta love what you're doing, love the people you're working for, and he's obviously shown that.”
“I think he's a brave man for running because from my own experience and what I've seen, there's only two types of presidents in Haiti, one that is for the people and one that is hand selected and we see what happens to the one that the people are in support of,” she said.
Ms. Sankofara noted that Haiti's next president will face huge problems, adding that while in Haiti recently she found food was not being distributed.
“According to one of the U.S. aid workers, they are waiting to see if a hurricane is going to hit and I told him that people are starving, for instance, like in Petitgoave, which is two hours outside of the epicenter of the earthquake in Port-au-Prince,” she said.
The next president will have to tackle rapes occurring in Haiti, and “not just from Haitian men but my sources are telling me that aid workers are also involved in the rapes,” Ms. Sankofara continued.
“I just really hope that Wyclef's more than ready to handle this job because this is not something that should be toyed with. This is serious. People's lives are depending on him and for Haiti to ever flourish again, he has a lot on his plate.
“Some people are feeling the way about his running the way they did with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California. People were uncomfortable with him running for governor because he was an actor but we've seen it done in this country before and I would think he should have the same fair chance as anyone else and let the people decide,” she said.
“The ruling class has not always been what the people want and I've heard that Lavalas is not even in the running so it is not even fair at this point. Wyclef has a lot of support in the U.S. but he has to do what will benefit his people and not what the U.S. wants,” said Ms. Sankofara. “The earthquake opened the opportunity for outsiders to get a stronghold on Haiti. The person that will be the president of Haiti has to be strong in order to make politically correct decisions for his people.”
(Associated Press writer Tamara Lush reported from Port-au-Prince and Final Call staffer Charlene Muhammad contributed to this report from Los Angeles.)