Only four of Haiti’s 19 presidential candidates participated in the country’s first televised presidential debate—a two-hour event held this past Saturday. Forty people attended the discussion but many left frustrated by vague responses from the candidates and the fact that all questions were required to be submitted in writing. Elections will be held on November 28.
Notably absent from the debate was Wyclef Jean, the hip hop artist ruled unable to run due to not meeting residency requirements.
When announced, the debate was lauded as a noteworthy example of transparency in an electoral climate that has been marred with criticisms. Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary General of the Caribbean Community and Common Market says there are “concerns that the electoral council is not independent and is being manipulated by the president.”
Musician-turned-politician Wycelf Jean lashed out at Sean Penn on Monday, defending his qualifications as a presidential candidate and his role in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake. Shortly after Jean registered his bid, Penn said in an interview with CNN that “For those of us in Haiti, [Jean] has been a non-presence,” and called into question Jean’s financial management as chairman of Yéle Haiti.
In a series of interviews, Jean defended his charity, claiming that it has raised $9 million since the earthquake, and played an instrumental role in decreasing violence following the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The Haitian-born artist the also characterized himself as a crucial liaison between the Haitian people and the 600,000 Haitians living in the United States. AQ interviewed Jean on his role in Haiti prior to the earthquake in the Spring 2009 issue on the environment.
The public row with Sean Penn raised several questions about Jean’s political credentials, his chairmanship of Yéle Haiti, and even his legal eligibility as a presidential candidate. However, the publicity that has resulted from the back-and-forth could ultimately prove beneficial to Jean’s campaign by raising his profile as a politician, especially among the Diaspora. The final list of candidates will be announced on August 17, three months before the national elections on November 26.
Haiti's Ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, said today that next week he will formally announce his candidacy for President in the Haitian national elections later this fall. In an interesting twist, some observers are predicting that Mr. Joseph will be running against his nephew, and world-famous performing artist, Wyclef Jean. Mr. Jean—a socially responsible celebrity as discussed with AQ—has been involved extensively in Haiti’s reconstruction and is rumored to be completing the paperwork required to run for public office and has until August 7 to complete the process.
In response to the possibility of Wyclef joining the race, Ambassador Joseph commented: “We are family. And we won’t allow politics to divide… No, I wouldn’t say running against, I would say running parallel.”
"I think he [Joseph] would be a strong contender," "I’m not endorsing him, but I am saying that he does fit the profile of what many expect to see in the next round: someone able to engage the international community." says Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University who has extensive knowledge on Haitian affairs.