Wyclef Jean Ponders A Run At Haiti's Presidency

Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean is expected to announce Thursday night on CNN's Larry King Live that he intends to run for president of Haiti. Jonathan Katz of the Associated Press talks to Renee Montagne about the political climate in Haiti.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Politics in Haiti is about to get some star power from a hip-hop artist who became famous with The Fugees, as in refugees. His family moved from Haiti to New York when he was a child. Today, Wyclef Jean is going home to formally announce he'll run for president. He's serious, and so is the challenge presented by his ruined country for anyone who might take it on.

Reporter Jonathan Katz is with the Associated Press in Haiti. Good morning.

Mr. JONATHAN KATZ (Associated Press): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: How much of a surprise is this? And Wyclef Jean, for those who may not be so familiar with him, what's his story, that he might actually be running for president?

Mr. KATZ: You know, I'll tell you, I moved to Haiti three years ago, and as of 2007 and before that, there had been rumors floating that Wyclef was a potential presidential candidate. So it's not completely out of the blue, although there was often an assumption that it was mostly talk, and that it was not really going to materialize. But from Wyclef's point of view, and I certainly can't speak for him, the music that he has done has had a political element to it, and he's been involved in some fairly political aspects of Haitian life for a while. In 2007, he was made an ambassador-at-large by President Rene Preval. His charity aid group Yele Haiti is very active. So it's not completely out of character with the way he's talked and the way he's acted.

MONTAGNE: Now you're in Haiti, and although he is not officially announced, the word's out. How are Haitians reacting to his possible candidacy?

Mr. KATZ: I don't think people know quite how to react yet. The dividing line seems to be based on how you feel about somebody who's almost entirely politically inexperienced. And I think some people look at him as being almost a foreigner. For some people, that's really a positive. Other people look at the trouble that Haiti's in now, especially after the earthquake, but even going along before that with grinding poverty and the huge institutional voids that need to be developed in the government, and they see somebody who doesn't have a lot of experience and they doubt that he will be capable of doing it.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Well, besides him, and his name is making news for this election in Haiti that's still some months off - it's not until the end of November. What other candidates are out there?

Mr. KATZ: The thing about an election in Haiti is just about everybody seems to participate. It's almost a running joke, so there's no shortage of candidates. One of the big names came down on Wednesday. President Preval's Unity Party decided that it was going to back former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who was Preval's prime minister from 2006, until he was ousted in 2008. But with the backing of the Unity Party, which is a fairly new but a very powerful coalition, he's a candidate who is going to need to be taken very seriously. The field is so huge and so wide open, it's really going to take getting closer to November 28th to figure out exactly who the frontrunners are going to be.

MONTAGNE: You just spoke of one candidate who may be a serious candidate. Is Wyclef Jean a serious candidate, in that sense?

Mr. KATZ: There's absolutely a chance. He's a candidate who is going to come in with money. He's going to come in with an ability to draw a crowd. And anytime you have somebody like that, you have to take them seriously as a candidate. Now, that said, there's some questions about whether or not he's even going to be qualified under the constitution to run. One of the big questions is that you have to have lived in Haiti for five consecutive years before you try for the presidency. It essentially seems that he has not. Regardless, this race is all about people vying for one of the toughest jobs in the world, and in some ways, whoever wins, that's when the real trials are going to start.

MONTAGNE: Jonathan Katz is the correspondent for the Associated Press in Haiti, speaking to us from Port-au-Prince.

Thanks very much.

Mr. KATZ: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "If I Was President")

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN (Rapper): (Singing) ...if I was president. I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, buried on Sunday, then go back to work on Monday.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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