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Musician Wyclef Jean testifies during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee March 13, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Musician Wyclef Jean testifies during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee March 13, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Globe Editorial

Help wanted for Haiti Add to ...

Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born hip hop artist who founded the Fugees (short for refugees), has until Saturday to make it official. But he has already filled out the paperwork to be a candidate for president in this fall's election in Haiti.

The 37-year-old roving ambassador has name recognition and deep pockets, and would bring celebrity to the office.

However, it is less clear whether he has the ability to survive the country's turbulent politics, and the political acumen to lead it out of its current state of turmoil.

Almost more than housing and food, Haiti needs a strong leader. Ruling the country was challenging even before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake which devastated the country Jan. 12, killing 230,000 and displacing two million people - one-fifth of its population.

The poorest country in the Americas has a long history of violent regime change, political instability, and civil unrest. The United Nations Stabilization Mission was installed six years ago, after former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's removal in a coup.

The earthquake killed one-sixth of the government. Today entire ministries are forced to meet in tents, or in the back of shipping containers. Hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless.

President René Préval was slow to respond to the crisis, and has failed to give his people vision and leadership. (He is prohibited from running for a third term.)

Stalled aid has made the reconstruction process slow. Much of the $5-billion (U.S.) in aid that was pledged has not reached Haiti. A recent U.S. Senate report noted "there are troubling signs that the recovery and longer-term rebuilding activities are flagging."

The election is a chance to re-invigorate relations between Haiti and donor countries. Mr. Jean, who was raised in New York, is beloved in Haiti and well-known abroad.

However, the challenges are daunting.

The earthquake destroyed polling stations, voting machines and registered voter lists. The Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) must re-register all internally displaced voters, and replace millions of lost voter identification cards. Many view the CEP itself with suspicion, as its nine members were hand-selected by Mr. Préval, in violation of the constitution.

Haiti's political climate is fractured and volatile: already 50 people have declared their intention to run as president. Mr. Wyclef could instead choose to back a presidential bid by his uncle, Raymond Joseph - Haiti's U.S. ambassador.

It may be that Mr. Joseph's skills are more suitable for the role. But regardless of who Haitians elect, the new president must have the capacity to oversee reconstruction, to communicate effectively, and to give people hope for the future.

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