As you probably already know, Wyclef Jean was deemed not eligible to run for President of Haiti yesterday by the country’s electoral council (the CEP), a decision that everyone pretty much already saw coming. In an effort to stop violent protests from starting after the announcement, and also to make the members of the council feel like they were celebrities for as long as possible, they held the list of candidates until 9pm Friday night, a move that totally ruined Ben and my’s dinner plans.
Ben and I decided to head over to the CEP earlier that day to see if anything was going on, and in the lobby was practically every journalist that works in Haiti, all anxiously waiting in the lobby of what used to be a Gold’s Gym. The gym was confiscated from a drug dealer last year after police determined the building was actually just a front for peddling drugs, and was converted into the CEP just after the earthquake. Now it houses some of the slowest election officials in the world.
Ben and I figured that waiting all day in that lobby was a complete waste of time, so we went out and grabbed some lunch, drove out to a tent city an hour outside PAP, picked up Ben’s wife from work, arranged Kreyol lessons for me, and grabbed a beer, all before returning. When we got back, all the same people were exactly where we left them, and then we waited for another 4 hours.
So the officials came out and told us to arrange around a table. “It was here,” they told us, “that we would be given the list of candidates!” About 3 dozen journalists, most of them Haitians, flocked around the table, trying to get the best vantage point for the impending announcement. And then there was a gun shot…
No joke, out of nowhere, someone ran beside the building, shot a gun into the air, and then ran away. Many of the journalists, including me, ran to see what was happening. I mean, in America, this would mean the building is shut down, helicopters are looking for a suspect, and the list of candidates would have to be released at another time. But here in Haiti, the office workers looked at each other and laughed, the police shrugged their shoulders, and most of the Haitian journalists didn’t even leave their positions next to the table.
But after the gun shot, the whole idea of holding the results until late at night kinda made sense. Wyclef’s supporters are extremely passionate, and have been known to get violent. Unfortunately for them, the harsh reality was that their candidate was just not eligible. Wyclef has not lived in Haiti for the past 5 years straight, a clear prerequisite in the constitution of Haiti for presidential candidates. There are no if, ands, or buts about it, so protesting against it seemed futile.
But this debate is what everyone has been talking about in PAP for the past couple weeks. A celebrity candidate who actually had a chance to become the president of a country! It was scary and exciting at the same time. You can liken it to the idea of Bruce Springsteen running for president in the States. Almost everybody loves the Boss, and crazily enough a bunch of people would actually vote for him, but in reality would he be a good president? Probably not. (I can just see the campaign ads against him…”Do you really want a “tramp” in the White House?”)
And whether Wyclef’s exclusion from the race was done as a political move because the opposition thought he could actually win, or because the elite just didn’t want a president who wanted real “change”, the bottom line was that he didn’t qualify. On one side it’s a pity, considering no matter how inexperienced he is politically, there’s really no way for him to do any worse than any of the presidents prior to now. He would have come in, already a wealthy man, and shook up a system that needs it SOOOOO badly. It would also keep the international community interested in what is now a pretty lack-luster election, which is now full of a bunch of usual suspects running to have the chance to steal billions of dollars from people who really need it.
So after they moved us to yet another room with another blue table, Richard Dumel from the electoral board sat himself behind about two dozen microphones, and just as many cameras, and announced what we had all been waiting for. Of the 34 candidates that had applied, 15 of the were deemed ineligible, and Wyclef Jean was one of them. That was it. The entire thing lasted about 3 minutes, tops.
Once the press conference was over there was an incredibly anti-climactic feeling. It was almost as if you had been on a 10 hour flight, knowing that there was a 99.9% chance that you are going to land safely, but there’s always that chance that something else could happen. This plane landed, just like everyone knew it would, and then everyone went home.
Ben and I left the CEP and headed back to his house, where we were supposed to eat dinner with Jillian and his wife, Alexis, earlier that evening. We grabbed a quick veggie burrito and then drove through the streets looking for some semblance of protests, which everyone had been expecting once the decision was made. But there were none, the streets were bare except for the usual prostitutes that perch themselves on the street corners, chatting with the local police forces. We headed home, disappointed that the day had ended with such a fizzle.
As a journalist, I can say that this whole election story is not off to a good start. For me, a Wyclef ticket on the presidential ballot would have made this election so much more interesting, and garnered a bunch more attention from the States. Now expectations are lowered for yet another sketchy election in “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Whose going to win?! Could it be Aristide’s old Prime Minister?! Preval’s old Prime Minister?! Any of the other 17 candidates?!?! Either way it’s kind of a snoozer, and means another five years of the same old politics in Haiti, which makes the decision to leave Wyclef out of it that much more depressing.