Wyclef Jean’s glamorous hip hop lifestyle seems far away as he sits in hiding in a white stucco building on a rutted, dirt road where chickens scurry and Haitian women carry sacks of laundry atop their heads.
The former Fugees frontman, multimillionaire philanthropist and Haitian presidential hopeful tells The Associated Press he is confident that election officials will accept his candidacy despite doubts as to whether he meets the five-year residency requirement needed to run for office.
Jean — who was born in Haiti but raised in New York — said Wednesday that he has filed “every piece of paper the electoral council has asked for.”
“We are winning on law,” added the 40-year-old, speaking from a rattan chair in his hideaway about two hours from the presidential palace in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. He argues his appointment as a roving ambassador to Haiti in 2007 exempts him from the residency requirement.
But even if he is barred from running in Haiti’s Nov. 28 elections, Jean said he will call for peace among his supporters.
“I will ask people to move in peace and move calmly,” he said.
Haiti’s electoral council was supposed to publish a list of candidates on Tuesday but postponed the decision until Friday, a move some speculate was due to Jean’s bid even though dozens of other candidacies must be decided on.
The wait has gripped the impoverished Caribbean country for days.
Jean, dressed casually in a blue-and-white striped shirt and blue slacks, spoke for 20 minutes with the AP. There were men with machine guns present, and men drinking rum, and lawyers.
“I think my candidacy is a wild card for Haiti,” he said.
Jean acknowledged that he has rankled some in Haitian politics by running and added that he has received death threats in Creole, one of the country’s main languages, which have led him to go into hiding.
“We have taken measures of security,” he said. “Even with security, anything is possible.”
Haiti’s next president will preside over the spending of billions in foreign reconstruction aid following a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that left a government-estimated 300,000 people dead and the capital in ruins.
He also would take over a country with a long history of political turmoil, corruption and poverty.
Jean said he wants the Haitian people to “participate in the reconstruction,” and that he will focus on the country’s youth, and asking reconstruction donors to help the country’s dysfunctional education system.
Nearly three dozen candidates have filed paperwork to run for president, prompting jokes about the race becoming an “American Idol”-style contest. Among them: US Ambassador Raymond Joseph, (Jean’s uncle) Michel Martelly, (a well-known Haitian singer known as “Sweet Mickey” who is known to perform in diapers), and Jean Bertin, (the father of Miss Haiti, who will compete in the Miss Universe contest next week).
Several other former prime ministers and political figures are also on the list.
The current president, Rene Preval, is not permitted to run for re-election.
Jean will almost certainly face questions regarding his participation in his former charity, Yele Haiti, which was accused of pre-quake financial improprieties that benefited the singer. He also owed some $2.1 million in back taxes to the IRS in the U.S., and during an earlier interview, pledged to publish an accounting of his finances online and to repay the money he owes.