PORT-AU-PRINCE Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean threw his support on Wednesday behind a popular musician competing in Haiti's March 20 presidential run-off.
The public endorsement by Jean, who is Haitian-born and last year was forced to abandon his own bid for the presidency, may provide a boost to the candidacy of Michel Martelly, a well-known singer and a political newcomer.
"I want the international community and all my friends in Haiti and around the world to know I endorse my good friend, Michel Martelly, to be the next president of Haiti," Jean told reporters, with Martelly by his side.
After a chaotic November 28 first round vote triggered fraud allegations and street protests, Haiti's electoral authorities announced this month that Martelly, 49, had qualified for the run-off with former first lady Mirlande Manigat.
Martelly, popularly known as "Sweet Mickey", is a star of Haiti's Kompa dance music, which mixes African and Latin rhythms, and his charismatic personality has rallied support among young Haitians in the poor Caribbean nation.
Manigat, 70 and a long-time figure in Haiti's opposition, was the top vote-winner in the first round but failed to garner more than 50 percent to win the election outright.
The winner will take over from outgoing President Rene Preval, who is prohibited from running for a consecutive term, and will face the challenge of steering a country struggling to recover from a crippling 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people. Haiti is also suffering a cholera epidemic.
Jean praised Martelly's status as a political outsider. "I think Martelly represents real change," he told Reuters.
Jean, who has lived most of his life in the United States, was barred by Haiti's electoral authorities last year from running for president on the grounds he failed to meet residency requirements.
His short-lived candidacy drew enthusiastic support from Haiti's youth, but prompted questions about whether a politically inexperienced celebrity was the best person to govern the crisis-ridden volatile country.
(Writing by Kevin Gray; editing by Pascal Fletcher and Mohammad Zargham)