Background – second free presidential election
After a state of economic difficulty for several years, Tunisia is holding its second free presidential poll since the 2011 uprising that toppled ex-president Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring. The defining issue of this year’s election is whether the Tunisian state can meet the social and economic needs of its people. It was brought forward from November after the death in July of Beji Caid Essebsi, the first democratically elected president, who took office in 2014. Tunisia’s political system, as established in the post-revolutionary constitution of 2014, divides power between the country’s president (who is responsible for foreign policy, defence, and national security) and the prime minister (who leads the government and oversees domestic policy). On paper, the prime minister has greater power but many Tunisians still regard the presidency as the more high-profile position. Twenty-six candidates, including two women, are running in the election. It is widely viewed as a test of one of the world’s youngest democracies. Mr Essebsi won Tunisia’s first free presidential elections in 2014 and was credited with largely maintaining stability in the country during his almost five-year rule. Now, the nation is preparing for a second open election, hoping for even more positive implications. Candidates must secure 50 per cent of the vote to win outright, but if none of the hopefuls obtains a majority the two with the most votes will advance to a second, decisive round. Among the key players is media mogul Nabil Karoui – behind bars due to an ongoing money-laundering probe, Abdelfattah Mourou, who heads the first-time bid on behalf of his Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. It is definitely a clash of giants as each of these candidates has a large following in the country.
This upcoming election is set to be the most open yet, and remarkably so, as the presidential race features no fewer than 26 candidates, including most of Tunisia’s best-known politicians, and there is no clear favourite. In another sign of the importance of this election, the Ennahda party (Tunisia’s long-time Islamist movement, which now presents itself as a political party with a Muslim point of reference) is also fielding a candidate, something it avoided in Tunisia’s previous presidential election, to minimise the risk of a political backlash. Furthermore, The jailed Nabil Karoui, one of the leading candidates, started a hunger strike this week. He is the owner of the unlicensed Nessma TV channel, which he has used to promote his political ambitions. He was detained in August on suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering, charges that his supporters say are politically motivated. Whoever is to win the elections, must come up with a social-economic plan that would make them stand out ahead of all the other popular candidates.
Young Tunisians have had enough of the state of politics and are getting involved
In addition to the record number of candidates, the country’s population and especially the youth are more enthusiastic than ever for the upcoming elections, as they feel the need to get involved in the politics with the intent of changing the tough economic circumstances Tunisia have endured. A group of students has another of implicating younger generations. It created a website called “What’s your program?”, adapted to younger readers used to gather news on social media. “There is a gap between traditional campaigning and the way younger Tunisians communicate: candidates still use written press or TV, when young people use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Periscope”, Mohamed Guidera, co-founder of Chnowa Barnamejek, told FRANCE 24. It is clear that the youth do not want to be left out in deciding the fate of their nation, as they have has enough.