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Wyclef Jean has a role in Haiti, but not as president

The hip-hop singer can most help his country by ending his bid gracefully and working for a peaceful, fair election.

August 25, 2010

Grammy Award-winning hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean isn't going to be president of Haiti. Not now, anyway. The country's Provisional Electoral Council has rejected his candidacy along with 14 others and issued a list of 19 approved contenders for the Nov. 28 vote. Unfortunately, the commission did not explain its ruling, but it is widely understood that Jean and a handful of the others were declared ineligible to run because they had not lived in Haiti for five consecutive years as required by law. Jean initially accepted the decision, then backtracked on Twitter, saying he would challenge it. His first instinct was the right one. He can help Haiti most now by ending his bid with grace.

Jean has done a lot of good for his native Haiti. The pop star has raised international attention and money for the earthquake-stricken nation. His success is a source of pride to many Haitians, and his candidacy inspired young people in particular to engage in democratic politics. Earlier this year, Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation rightly came under scrutiny for using donated funds to pay his production company for benefit concerts, and raised questions about his competency to serve as president. But that is neither the reason for his disqualification nor the issue at hand now.

Many Haitians believe that President Rene Preval stacked the electoral council with supporters of his Unity party, and Jean apparently suspects he was disqualified by a political elite trying to hold on to power. Whatever imperfections and tensions may underlie the system, the council's decision is final. Jean is to be congratulated for not calling his supporters to the streets, where Haitian political issues often are addressed with violence. This is a country struggling to build rule of law.

Haiti has had two elected presidents since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986: Preval and the now-exiled Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Their Unity and Lavalas parties are divided, which means that for the first time there is no clear front-runner. Jean could play a constructive role in the wide-open race, either by endorsing another candidate, which would catapult that person into the lead, or by simply advocating for political participation. Either way, he would continue to build sorely needed legitimacy for the electoral system. Millions of Haitians remain homeless, and the capital is filled with rubble. Haiti needs a fair and peaceful election to replace Preval with another legitimate authority. Reconstruction depends on it. Jean can help make it happen.

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