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Wyclef Jean vows to help Haiti after presidential bid rejected

Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean urged supporters to respond "peacefully and responsibly" to a Haiti provisional electoral council ruling that he is not eligible to run as a presidential candidate in the Nov. 28 election.
Image: Wyclef Jean returns To Haiti To Campaign For Presidency
Singer Wyclef Jean, center, is greeted by supporters Friday as he exits a hotel before the public pronouncement that he is ineligible to run for the Nov. 28 presidential election.Joe Raedle / Getty Images
/ Source: news services

Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean urged supporters to respond "peacefully and responsibly" to a Haiti provisional electoral council ruling that he is not eligible to run as a presidential candidate in the Nov. 28 election.

Singer-songwriter Jean, 40, an international celebrity who is popular in his impoverished and earthquake-ravaged homeland, was left off the list of approved candidates published by the council.

Council spokesman Richard Dumel said election officials accepted 19 candidacies and rejected 15 others. Jean's candidacy was turned down because he did not meet the residency requirement of having lived in Haiti for five years before the election.

Jean said in a blog posted at The Huffington Post: "Though I disagree with the ruling, I respectfully accept the committee's final decision, and I urge my supporters to do the same."

He urged supporters to respond "peacefully and responsibly to this disappointment."

"Ultimately, we must respect the rule of law in order for our island to become the great nation we all aspire for it to be," he said.

He vowed to continue working for Haiti's renewal.

"Though the board has determined that I am not a resident of Haiti, home is where the heart is — and my heart has and will always be in Haiti."

He invoked his daughter's name, Angelina, who "makes me want to redouble my efforts to help give all the children in Haiti better days."

He concluded, "Rest assured, this isn't the end of my efforts to help improve my beloved country but only marks a new beginning."

The former Fugees frontman earlier was ensconced in a hotel not far from where the electoral council was deliberating. About an hour before the candidate list was announced, Jean and his entourage left the hotel without speaking to the press.

Dozens of police and United Nations peacekeepers in riot gear were stationed outside the council office, but as journalists streamed out of the building following the announcement, there were no signs of protests or unrest.

One thing is already certain: The singer brought sizzle to the election, attracting fresh attention to a country still devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"His candidacy certainly did shake things up," said Laurent Dubois, a Haiti historian and professor at Duke University. "But it's still a very important election whether Wyclef is in it or not."

The decision had already been postponed once this week. Jean's supporters had said they suspected members of Haiti's political elite were trying to block his campaign.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is struggling to recover from the devastating January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people.

Jean, who left his impoverished homeland with his family to live in New York at the age of 9 and launched his music career in the United States, had presented arguments his lawyers said showed a "constant presence."

Jean's jump into politics galvanized the Haitian political scene, triggering enthusiasm among the country's restless, widely unemployed youth, who see him as a refreshing symbol of home-grown hope, and alarm among the traditional Haitian political elite who seemed to feel threatened by him.

Slogans scrawled in Creole on city walls reading: "Youth supports Youth" and "Wyclef means change" testified to his support among the young, and youth and Creole musical groups had already declared their backing for his candidacy.

Some young Haitians said they would not vote in the November elections if Jean was not a candidate.

"There are a lot of politicians who say they have a lot of experience, big diplomas, but I don't see what they have done for this country. We are still the poorest country in the region," said 19-year-old Ashley Simon.

"The best leader is not necessarily someone who has big diplomas. It is someone who has a heart and who understands the situation of the people and Wyclef shows he understands the miserable situation of the Haitian people," he added.

Yet Jean had no political organization and only a vague platform, casting himself as an advocate of Haiti's struggling youth and saying he would ask reconstruction donors to help the country's dysfunctional education system.

He also faced persistent criticism over alleged financial mismanagement at the charity he founded, Yele Haiti. He stepped down from the charity at the beginning of his campaign.

Some Haitians questioned the seriousness of the aspiring candidate, who left the desperately poor Caribbean nation as a boy.

"I don't think he's a politician at all," said Etienne St. Cyr, a pastor who helps at a camp for homeless earthquake survivors at the Petionville Country Club. "Maybe he's not what we need right now."

St. Cyr said Jean failed to win over the people camped in squalid tents on the slope of a golf course, noting they already have allegiances to established political parties and the singer had not visited the camp.

Earlier this week, Jean said he had received death threats from somebody who called and told him to get out of Haiti.