Musician, producer and activist Wyclef Jean can officially add presidential hopeful to his résumé. The Grammy-winning MC and singer spoke about his plans to run for president of Haiti in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Thursday (August 5).
Flanked by crowds of supporters, 'Clef opened up to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer via satellite from Haiti about his presidential aspirations and said he was inspired to seek political office in the wake of the country's devastating earthquake.
"After January 12 ... being out here with my wife and picking up dead bodies from the ground, I felt that because of the youth of Haiti and the population that this is not even Wyclef saying that 'I want to be the president of Haiti.' I feel like I'm being drafted by the population right now to give them a different face, a different voice," the singer explained.
Wyclef has realized major success as an entertainer but cannot boast a significant amount of political experience. However, he asserted that his position as a political outsider will work to his advantage.
"What qualifies me to be president of Haiti, when I look at the past 200 years, with what our people have suffered, Wolf — political instability, coup after coup d'état — I feel that me running, it brings a neutral situation, meaning that Wyclef Jean can sit with any political party and have a conversation. I'm coming in neutral," he said.
'Clef outlined the issues he plans to focus on in his campaign, which include education, job creation, agriculture, security and health care. The singer mentioned that only a tiny percentage of the billions of promised aid dollars has reached Haiti, and he plans to rally the international community to make good on relief money. He also said that, if elected in November, he plans to look beyond government resources and to reach out the Haitian community abroad to help create opportunities in the island nation.
Although he has achieved success as a musician and high-profile status as a humanitarian, 'Clef has also weathered criticism due his murky financial situation. His Yele Haiti organization, which 'Clef stepped down from on Thursday, garnered attention earlier this year for the use of funds funneled to the group. He has battled a large personal tax bill and addressed concerns about his financial health, saying, "We respect the IRS very much. I will not leave these United States of America and come to my country and not handle the situation with the IRS. Any personal Wyclef matters are being handled as we speak."
Wyclef is up against a slew of candidates for the presidential seat, including his own uncle, but the singer probably has the most star-studded personal network and said he would turn to his celebrity pals for assistance in his latest endeavor.
"What I'm hoping is, all of my friends that are watching this, from all of my entertainers from Hollywood, from all of the connections that I have made around the world [will help]," Wyclef said. The singer said he also plans to launch a viral fundraising effort, which was inspired by President Barack Obama's Internet-savvy campaign.
However, one celebrity has already expressed reservations about Wyclef's bid for Haitian head of state. Sean Penn, who was also a guest on "Larry King" and has championed the plight of the Haitian people in the wake of the tragic earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, voiced his concerns about 'Clef's intentions.
"Right now, I worry that this is a campaign that is more about a vision of flying around the world, talking to people. It's certainly not one of the youth drafting him. I would be quite sure that this is an influence of corporations here in the United States and private individuals that may well have capitalized on his will to see himself flying around the world," Penn asserted. Despite his issues with the singer's motives, Penn made a statement that both he and Wyclef can likely agree on: "What the Haitian people need now is a leader who's genuinely willing to sacrifice."
Wyclef has maintained that his campaign in the real deal: "This is a move I have been considering for a long time, and now, with conditions in Haiti worse than they've ever been, I want to take my commitment to helping my country to the highest level it can go," Jean said in a statement to MTV News. "I can't imagine a better way to ensure the development and growth of Haiti, and I worry that at this critical time if we do nothing, then nothing will be done."
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