Tunisia’s presidential election: Who will be the new occupant of Carthage Palace?

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A Tunisian soldier stands guard as election commission workers unload ballot boxes from a military truck at a polling station in the city of Beja on November 22, 2014, on the eve of the presidential election. AFP/Fadel Senna

By: Hassan al-Eyadi

Published Saturday, November 22, 2014

On Sunday, Tunisia will hold landmark presidential elections unique in its modern history, marking the last constitutional requirement of the country’s democratic transition.

Sunday’s elections take place in the shadow of the results of the legislative elections in which the Nidaa Tunis (Call of Tunisia) Party won the majority of seats. The Islamist Ennahda Party has declared that it does not support any candidate. So the question is: will the leader of Nidaa Tunis Beji Caid Essebsi be the most likely occupant of the presidential palace, or will his main rival Moncef Marzouki delay the announcement of the new president’s name until the second round?

Tunis – On Sunday, the Tunisians will turn the page on the last chapter of the transitional phase that the country has lived under for the past three years. Five million voters will go to the polls to choose one of 22 presidential candidates, but the spotlight will be on the president of Nidaa Tunis Beji Caid Essebsi, interim President Moncef Marzouki, and leader of the Popular Front and spokesman of the Tunisian Workers' Party Hamma Hammami, to learn whether one of them will emerge victorious from the first round – by obtaining 50 percent plus one of the vote – or whether we will see a second round, which polls show would be fought between Essebsi and Marzouki.

Tunisian law stipulates that in the event no candidate obtains a majority of 50 percent plus one, a run-off round follows, in which only the top two candidates from the first round can compete.

The presidential elections follow the legislative elections held last month, in which Nidaa Tunis won a majority of seats. Meanwhile, the Islamist Ennahda Party has said it will not endorse any candidate, which puts Markouzi in a tough position if Ennahda adheres to this and does not divert votes to him in secret.

Some opinion polls have clearly shown that the competition will boil down to four candidates, president of Nidaa Tunis Beji Caid Essebsi, whom polls give the lead but not necessarily the ability to win a decisive majority in the first round; Markouzi; Hamma Hammami; and the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) candidate Slim Riahi.

Most projections have favored Moncef Marzouki to compete with Essebsi in the second round. Marzouki, who is fighting his campaign on the basis of ‘revolutionary’ legitimacy, has used the slogan, “We win, or we win,” and enjoys the backing of six parties. He is betting on winning in the run-off round, relying on the support of the largest number of Nidaa Tunis’ opponents he can mobilize. This is going to be tough to achieve, however, as Hamma Hammami has ruled out supporting or allying with Marzouki under any circumstances.

The interim president, who is fighting his campaign amid pledges to “deal with” the government of the old regime and defend the gains of the revolution, relies on leaders of the Salafi movements, and leaders of the Leagues for the Protection of the Tunisian Revolution, which are banned under the Tunisian law.

In contrast to Marzouki’s floundering campaign and his search for a strong alliance that backs him in the second round, Beji Caid Essebsi seems to be betting on the results of the legislative election through which his party guaranteed a majority in the next parliament. Essebsi is also betting on Ennahda’s popular base adhering to the leadership’s decision not to support any candidate, which would give the base the choice to vote for whomever they see fit; this will not be in the interest of the interim president.

Among the factors that give Essebsi an advantage is the decline in the role of young people in the elections and the high number of boycotters as a result of the frustration and disappointment felt towards the politicians, three years after the revolution that was led by young people under slogans of dignity and freedom.

The second factor is the high proportion of older age groups (middle aged and elderly) participating in the elections.

Essebsi is trying to woo the leadership and supporters of Ennahda to vote in his favor, and has not ruled out an alliance with the movement in the next government.

Essebsi has countered the campaign of his main rival Moncef Marzouki, by focusing his campaign on security and the “maintenance of the Tunisian societal model.” He has used these issues to attack Marzouki, an ally of the Islamists in Ennahda in the past three years, during which Tunisia has come under attack from radical Islamists targeting the long-standing manifestations of modernity in Tunisia.

About 400,000 Tunisian voters residing outside the country began to cast their ballots on Friday, and will continue to vote until Sunday in more than 400 polling stations around the world.

In the meantime, the electoral commission in Tunisia declared on Friday as well that Nidaa Tunis had obtained 86 seats out of 217 according to the final results of the general election held on 26 October, while Ennahda came second with 69 seats.

The Free Patriotic Union (UPL) founded by businessman Slim Riahi came third with 16 seats, followed by the Popular Front (an alliance of more than 10 radical leftist parties) with 15 seats.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Perhaps Al Akhbar's editorial position on this issue is evident in the choice of photograph: showing the soldier with the Austrian-manufactured Steyr assault rifle.
Whoever wins, the West wins.
Is that democracy?
Is that progress?
Is that rational?
Is it tolerable?

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