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Wyclef Jean is expected to be a front-runner in Haiti's presidential election in November, if his candidacy is approved. (SEBASTIEN PIRLET/Sebastien Pirlet/Reuters)
Wyclef Jean is expected to be a front-runner in Haiti's presidential election in November, if his candidacy is approved. (SEBASTIEN PIRLET/Sebastien Pirlet/Reuters)

Wyclef Jean's Haitian presidential bid goes out of tune Add to ...

Wyclef Jean's bid to become president of Haiti, announced with a crowd-surfing celebration above Port-au-Prince supporters, has come back down to earth amid high-profile criticism, unwelcome scrutiny, eligibility questions and now death threats.

The former front man of the popular 90s hip hop band The Fugees reportedly received a phone call telling him to leave the country and says he fled to an undisclosed location in Haiti to await an announcement Friday about whether he will be allowed to seek the country's highest office in the November 28 election.

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Mr. Jean's political aspirations are drawing more attention than those of most celebrity carpetbaggers. That's because whoever takes over for current President René Préval will inherit a devastated island and millions of dollars in international aid donated intended to help with its reconstruction. Although his time in the North American limelight was fading before the quake, he is well known and well loved in Haiti, where more than half the population is under 25, and is expected to be a front-runner should his bid be approved.

But his presidential plans have faced challenges beyond this week's threats.

Thirty-four contenders have expressed their intention to run in the election and several, including Mr. Jean, have had the legitimacy challenged.

The country's electoral law stipulates that candidates must have had five consecutive years of residency in Haiti to be eligible, be older than 35, own property on the island and "never have been sentenced to death," requirements that have thrown a wrench in the political plans of at least nine contenders.

Mr. Jean, was born on the island but raised in New York, where he gained fame alongside fellow Fugee Lauryn Hill with hits such as Killing Me Softly and Ready or Not.

Lawyers working on his behalf say Mr. Jean is eligible to run for president despite the fact that he has lived in the United States most of his life, and say he never took U.S. citizenship.

The nine years he lived in Haiti as a child before leaving for the U.S. fulfill the electoral residency requirement, they say. And Mr. Jean owns a television network on the island, which his team believes satisfies the prerequisite property ownership. In 2007, he was appointed by Mr. Preval as a roving ambassador, and Mr. Jean said this also exempts him from the residency requirement.

"We await the CEP decision but the laws of the Haitian constitution must be respected," he said in an e-mail to the Associated Press this week.

Mr. Jean has been the target of widespread criticism before being given official sanction to run.

The third member of The Fugees and fellow Haitian, Pras Michel, has publicly endorsed another candidate and questioned Mr. Jean's qualifications for the job, pointing out that he does not speak French or Creole, the two languages of Haiti.

"The reality is this: We need a real leader. Not just a regular leader, but a transformative leader. Someone that's [going to]be able to galvanize the Haitians down on the field, the Haitian-Americans, the international community ... I'm just not convinced Wyclef is the one for that," Mr. Michel told MTV News earlier this month. He was also targeted by actor Sean Penn, who has been doing relief work in Haiti since the January earthquake.

"I'm not accusing Wyclef Jean of being an opportunist; I don't know the man," Mr. Penn said. "One of the reasons I don't know much about Wyclef Jean is that I haven't seen or heard anything of him in these last six months that I've been in Haiti."

But Mr. Jean has also been forced to answer to more serious charges.

His charity, Yélé Haiti, has been accused of funnelling money to his private holdings.

And the Smoking Gun reported that he owed more than $2.1-million in back taxes.

At a press conference earlier this year, he tearfully apologized for the mistakes, blaming them on sloppy bookkeeping.

He has denied that his run for president is a publicity stunt, but told Time magazine it would have come 10 years later had it not been for the earthquake, which he said drew him into action.

His 2004 solo album, Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101, features a song called If I Was President.

 

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