- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (AP) - Singer Wyclef Jean submitted the paperwork Thursday to run for president of Haiti, formally thrusting himself into what is expected to be a highly competitive race and ending years of speculation about his political ambitions.

Dozens of supporters of the hip hop artist-turned-politician cheered as he arrived by motorcade in a dark suit and tie at an electoral office in a capital city still largely in ruins from the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Jean, who was accompanied by his wife and daughter, stood on top of an SUV and bowed to the crowd.

“It’s a moment in time and in history,” Jean told The Associated Press as he went to hand in his candidacy papers, 10 minutes before the office closed. “It’s very emotional.”

The winner of the Nov. 28 election will preside over the billions in international aid being channeled to Haiti to rebuild after the earthquake, which killed an estimated 300,000 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, including most government ministries.

If Jean’s candidacy is approved, Jean will face several candidates who lack his international fame but have more political clout. Among the most formidable contestants will be ousted ex-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who secured the backing of President Rene Preval’s powerful Unity party this week. Preval is barred from running by the constitution.

Jean was born on the outskirts of the Port-au-Prince but left the country as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He gained fame as a member of the Fugees and went on to have a successful solo career. In recent years, he has been active in Haiti with the charity Yele Haiti, prompting long-running speculation that he would run for president one day.

Earlier Thursday, he stepped down as leader of Yele Haiti, which faced criticism for alleged financial imprroprieties.

Jean helped found Yele Haiti five years ago to raise money and build awareness of the myriad problems in his impoverished homeland. It raised $9 million in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed a government-estimated 300,000 people. Of that, it has spent $1.5 million on food, water, tents, clothes and other products for quake survivors, said Cindy Tanenbaum, a spokeswoman the musician said.

“I am not stepping down in my commitment to Haiti. On the contrary, regardless of what path I take next, one thing is certain: My focus on helping Haiti turn a new corner will only grow stronger,” Jean said in the statement.

Jean is not the only celebrity who has entered the race for president.

Popular Haitian musician, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, arrived just ahead of Jean to submit his candidacy papers. He was accompanied by singer Pras Michel, who was also one of the original members of The Fugees and is supporting his bid for presidency.

Martelly welcomed Jean, a longtime friend, to the race. “I hope politics will not divide us,” he said.