Hip hop star Wyclef Jean submitted the paperwork to run for president of Haiti, thrusting himself into what is expected to be a highly competitive race and ending years of speculation about his political ambitions.
Several hundred of his supporters cheered as he arrived by motorcade in a dark suit and tie at an electoral office in the capital Port-au-Prince, still largely in ruins from the devastating January 12 earthquake.
Jean, 37, who was born in Haiti but raised in Brooklyn, New York City, stood on top of an SUV and bowed to the crowd.
“It’s a moment in time and in history,” Jean, accompanied by his wife and daughter, said as he went to hand in his candidacy papers, 10 minutes before the office closed. “It’s very emotional.”
As he left the building he was quickly engulfed by supporters and held a rally in the street.
“The US has Barack Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean,” he shouted to the jubilant crowd, many wearing the free white T-shirts distributed by the candidate’s backer’s with the campaign slogan “Face to Face.”
The winner of the November 28 election will preside over the billions in international aid being channelled to Haiti to rebuild after the earthquake, which killed an estimated 300,000 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, including most government ministries.
If Jean’s candidacy is approved, he will face several candidates who lack his international fame but have more political clout. Among the most formidable is ousted ex-prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who secured the backing of President Rene Preval’s powerful Unity party this week. Mr Preval is barred from running by the constitution.
An eight-member board reviews would-be candidates and verifies whether they meet all the constitutional requirements, including having lived in Haiti for five consecutive years leading up to the election and never having held foreign citizenship. The list of official candidates will be published on August 17.
Jean’s US upbringing could be a roadblock to his candidacy, but the singer says his appointment as a roving ambassador by Mr Preval in 2007 exempts him from the residency requirement.
Jean was born on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince but left the country as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He gained fame as a member of the Fugees and went on to have a successful solo career. He is known for such hit singles as 'We Trying To Stay Alive' and 'Gone Till November'.
With the Fugees, he recorded the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum-selling album 'The Score'.
In recent years he has been active in Haiti with the charity Yele Haiti, prompting long-running speculation that he would run for president one day.
Yesterday he stepped down as leader of Yele Haiti, which faced criticism for alleged financial improprieties following Haiti’s earthquake.
Jean had tearfully defended the organisation in a news conference weeks after the quake. Yele also hired a new accounting firm after the allegations surfaced.
The singer helped found the charity five years ago to raise money and build awareness of the myriad problems in his impoverished homeland. It raised €6.7m in the wake of the earthquake. Of that, it has spent €1.1m on food, water, tents, clothes and other products for quake survivors, said Cindy Tanenbaum, a spokeswoman for the musician.
“I am not stepping down in my commitment to Haiti. On the contrary, regardless of what path I take next, one thing is certain: My focus on helping Haiti turn a new corner will only grow stronger,” Jean said yesterday.
Jean is not the only celebrity in the race.
Popular musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly arrived just ahead of Jean to submit his candidacy papers. He was accompanied by singer Pras Michel, who was also one of the original members of The Fugees and is supporting his bid for presidency.