Tunisians to cast their ballots Sunday in landmark presidential election

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, November 21, 2014

Tunisians are preparing to cast their ballots on Sunday to elect a new president in a vote billed as the country's first free and fair presidential election.

Twenty-seven presidential candidates are vying for office in the weekend vote, the last portion of Tunisia's transitional phase which began in the wake of the ouster of autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011 after massive protests against his 10-year rule.

More than 5.2 million Tunisians are eligible to cast ballot in the Sunday presidential election.

According to figures by the Tunisian electoral commission, most eligible voters are concentrated in capital Tunis and the provinces of Manouba, Ariana and Ben Arous, which have a combined total of some 1.2 million registered voters.

The southeastern Sfax 1 and 2 electoral districts come in second with some 441,000 registered voters, while the eastern Nabeul 1 and 2 districts with around 370,000 voters.

Two presidential candidates appear to be the frontrunners in the upcoming polls – interim President Moncef Marzouki, who was voted in office by members of the elected Constituent Assembly a few months after Ben Ali's ouster, and Beji Caid Essebsi, who served as parliament speaker under Ben Ali.

Essebsi's is also the leader of Nidaa Tounes Party, which clinched the most seats by a single party in last month's parliamentary polls.

According to Associated Press (AP), a third possible contender is Hamma Hammami, the leader of the left-wing Popular Front coalition.

The movement is popular in the poorer south of the country and is one of the only ones addressing the miserable condition of Tunisia's poor, who have been thumped by soaring inflation of around 6 percent.

"If the next government does not in the first few weeks take urgent measures to address this problem," Hammami said recently, "there risks being a social explosion in the country."

The participation of youth in the election remains the determinate factor in this elections, as those aged between 18 and 40 make up a sizable 67-percent majority of total eligible voters in Tunisia, according to the Tunisian electoral commission's figures.

However, observers noted a visibly weak turnout of younger voters during the parliamentary elections, linking their apparent disinterest in voting to a sense of disillusionment at the country's post-revolution sociopolitical conditions amid persistently high rates of unemployment.

"Youth aged 18 to 25 might still not consider it a priority to exercise voting," Sociology professor Mohamed al-Goueili told Anadolu news agency.

"However, those between 25 to 30 years old did participate more than their younger counterparts in the parliamentary elections and do care more about voting as they begin to assume work and family responsibilities."

Goueili, who leads the government-run National Youth Observatory, still had reasons to believe that young voters would make a stronger showing in Sunday's polls.

"A young voter might find a role model in a presidential candidate," Goueili said.

Tunisia has a population of around 11 million, half of which are below 18, according to latest government figures.

(Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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