Analysis: No major Haiti risk seen from Wyclef election bar

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - If protests do break out in Haiti to contest Friday’s decision to bar hip-hop star Wyclef Jean from running for the presidency of his earthquake-shattered homeland, they may only be short-lived.

Haiti’s electoral authority said Jean did not meet the requirement that presidential candidates have five consecutive years of residency in Haiti prior to running.

At worst, some had feared the ruling could spark riots in the poorest country in the Americas, which has been ravaged by political upheaval, dictatorship and military rule since a slave revolt threw off French colonial rule 200 years ago.

“They say Wyclef is no longer in the race but he is the one whom the population is marching behind -- 100 percent,” said one disappointed supporter, Michel Jerome, who ekes out a living charging cellphones in Port-au-Prince.

But following the late-night decision by the electoral council, the streets of the capital appeared calm.

And the 40-year-old singer-songwriter himself seemed anxious to defuse any potential trouble, quickly issuing a statement in which he “respectfully” accepted the electoral council’s decision and urged his supporters to do the same.

“Ultimately, we must respect the rule of law in order for our island to become the great nation we all aspire for it to be,” Jean said.

His jump into politics had been widely credited with injecting fresh blood into the Haitian political scene, stoking enthusiasm among the country’s restless, widely unemployed youth, who saw him as a symbol of hope and success.

But unlike former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by an armed revolt six years ago, analysts say there was no conclusive evidence that Jean could mobilize the masses as a political leader and fully capture the support of Haiti’s overwhelming majority of poor peasants and workers.

Jean left Haiti with his family to live in New York at the age of 9 and launched his music career in the United States.

He is admired for never having forgotten his Haitian roots and he has sought, through his Yele Haiti Foundation, to help in Haiti’s recovery from the January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people.

But he recently boasted about being able to make “millions of dollars a day” by living and working in the United States, giving him little in common with most people in the Caribbean nation of 9 million people who live on less than $2 a day.

Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University, said Jean was very popular in some areas of the capital Port-au-Prince.

But he said the fact that Jean announced his presidential bid on CNN and in other major U.S. media outlets highlighted his image, not as a grass-roots political leader, but as “a media star.”


“There’s an assumption that his popularity as a rap singer has translated into an organized political movement. And I think that that’s a leap,” Gamarra said.

“He is a good artist but I don’t think he can lead the country,” Saurel Jean-Jacques, a Port-au-Prince hairdresser, said on Friday.

Jean has signaled he has no intention of fanning the flames of popular unrest in Haiti, and he may even wind up throwing his high-profile support behind another of the 19 presidential candidates approved on Friday.

He made clear he intended to continue to use his international celebrity profile in Haiti’s reconstruction.

“Do not think that my role in the future of Haiti is over; it’s just a different role than I had anticipated it to be. Rest assured, this isn’t the end of my efforts to help improve my beloved country but only marks a new beginning,” he said.

Outgoing President Rene Preval’s government and the more than 9,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti have succeeded in calming gang violence in the Port-au-Prince slums and elsewhere across the country in recent years.

Analysts say the Haitian National Police, which replaced the dreaded army in the mid-1990s, has also gained more public support recently, as it helped to maintain order and quash delinquency amid popular frustration over the slow pace of post-quake rebuilding efforts.

Despite widespread popular distrust and resentment of powerful political and business elites in Haiti, the local and international security forces were among factors weighing against political bloodletting or any organized attempts to disrupt the November elections, analysts said.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Tom Brown in Miami; Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Vicki Allen