PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian hip-hop star and presidential hopeful Wyclef Jean turned to song on Thursday to accuse outgoing President Rene Preval of engineering his rejection as a candidate for Haiti’s November election.
Local radio stations were broadcasting a song by Jean in Creole in which he called for the jailing of electoral officials who last week disqualified him and for the first time directly blamed Preval for being banned from the November 28 vote.
The 40-year-old Haitian-born, U.S.-based musical celebrity, who has an enthusiastic youth following in his poor homeland, is challenging the rejection of his candidacy and has denounced the electoral authorities as corrupt and politically motivated.
The dispute has raised fears of tensions that could disrupt the Caribbean nation’s rebuilding after a massive January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people.
In his Creole composition entitled “Prizon Pou K.E.P.a” (Jail for the Provisional Electoral Council), a somber-voiced Jean sings that Preval “expelled me from the race.”
“I know all the cards are in your hands ... I voted for you to be president in 2006, why today did you reject my candidacy?” the song says, addressing Preval, who cannot seek re-election after serving two terms as president.
"It's not Wyclef that you have expelled, it is the youth you have denied ... it's the population you have denied, its the peasants you have denied," Jean sings. He also posted the song on his Twitter page twitter.com/wyclef.
Preval had been informed about the song but did not immediately react, aides said.
In ruling out Jean’s candidacy and that of 14 other contenders on Friday, Haiti’s provisional electoral council said Jean failed to meet a requirement that presidential candidates maintain five consecutive years of residency in the country before running. Nineteen candidates were approved.
After initially accepting the decision, Jean — who left his homeland with his family at age 9 to live in the United States — changed his tune, announcing he would appeal. He insists he meets the residency requirements.
A lawyer for the electoral council has said that under Article 191 of the electoral law, rulings by the body’s disputes tribunal are definitive and cannot be appealed.
Some Haitians backed Jean’s challenge. “I think politicians like Preval are the reason why Wyclef is not on the list. They control the electoral council, they know Wyclef would win, so this is unfair,” said 30-year-old Jean-Michel Morin.
Others felt it would be better if he accepted the electoral body’s decision. “Throwing out accusations and calling on people to mobilize ends up getting people onto the streets to create trouble. I think he needs to show he can be a good loser,” said Genevieve Felix, 25.
U.N. and Haitian police have stepped up joint patrols in the rubble-strewn streets of the capital, where more than 1.5 million people are still living in fragile tent and tarpaulin cities at the peak of the 2010 hurricane season.
The U.N. mission in Haiti has appealed to candidates and parties to respect the electoral laws and promote peaceful campaigning. But it has declined to comment directly on the electoral council decision and Jean’s challenge of it.
Despite his popularity among Haiti’s youth, Jean has faced questions about whether a celebrity with no political experience is the best person to lead a chronically poor and corrupt nation that is coming out of a huge natural disaster.
One of his critics has been Hollywood film star Sean Penn, who has helped run a quake survivors’ camp.
Responding to Jean’s public rebuttal of earlier criticism, Penn wrote in a Huffington Post blog that both Haiti and the world should stay focused on the task of aiding earthquake survivors and helping to reconstruct the shattered country.
“The real and devastating human issues in Haiti must be handled and led by a qualified president’s deft hand. These elections are crucial, and I have no part in them. Neither should Mr. Jean,” Penn wrote in the posting on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Peter Cooney