Elyes Fakhfakh, one of the leaders the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties – Ettakatol, has filled his nomination papers for the early presidential polls. Speaking to reporters, Fakhfakh stressed that his candidacy is "that of the Tunisian social-democratic family that is passed on from generation to generation". He said he is running, based on his experience in managing several files and after serving as minister after 2011. "I am a candidate for Ettakatol and I aspire to make Tunisia more prosperous and more attractive for investment," he added. Fakhfakh said he was entering the race for the presidency after winning the endorsement of 10 MPs from four parliamentary blocs, namely Tahya Tounes, Ennahdha, Allegiance to the Nation and the Democratic Bloc. Fakhfakh nomination came as a surprise. In March, Ettakatol party secretary-general Kamel Gargouri had said that the party was not planning to field a presidential candidate.
Big names running for president
Fakhfakh is not the only former government official who is running for the highest office of Tunisia. He is expected to face strong competition from Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, former president Moncef Marzouki, Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, ex-PM Mehdi Jemaa and Abdel Fattah Morou, VP from Tunisia’s biggest party.
Current PM Chahed, leader of his newly created secular party Tahya Tounes (Long Live Tunisia), submitted his candidacy the day before. He said he will meanwhile stay in office and see his responsibilities through to the end. Calls for him to step down are designed to put off elections insofar as his resignation implies the resignation of the whole cabinet, Chahed highlighted. This is inconceivable when the country is fighting terrorism and not to mention the fact there are no legal grounds for it. He added that Tunisia needs a president who breaks with the old legal system and mindsets and practices "from which I myself suffered". Chahed is a former leader of Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia), the largest party after the 2014 parliamentary elections, which split in many different factions in the following years.
The same day, the president of Machrou Tounes (Project Tunisia) also entered the race for the presidency. Marzouk told reporters he is standing to give voice to the aspirations of Tunisian youth. He also urged Tunisians to head to polls with the least possible split and in full respect of political ethics. Sovereignty, dignity and progress will be the watchwords of his campaign, Marzouk added. Marzouk was one of the founders of Nidaa Tounes before resigning and founding Machrou Tounes in March 2016.
Another leading candidate is Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi. He joined the crowded race as independent, though supported by liberal parties including Nidaa Tounes and Afek Tounes (Horizons of Tunisia).
Abdel Fattah Morou, vice president of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, Tunisia’s largest political group, is running as well. He would be Ennahda’s first presidential candidate as Islamists suffered decades of repression before 2011. Being one of Ennahda’s most moderate leaders, Mourou has long demanded reforms to the party to make it more open and to distance it from the Muslim Brotherhood in other Arab countries. Though critics say Mourou is two-faced and holds contradictory positions on the role of the Islam in society. Mourou is currently acting speaker of parliament after former speaker Mohamed Ennaceur became interim president.
The one candidate who was topping the polls for a long time has been barred from standing after parliament passed a “moral” law it backers said was designed to ensure a fair ballot. Nabila Karoui, who owns a commercial broadcaster, Nessma TV, which is seen as critical of the government, was excluded from running for president by the legislation which bans the use of civil associations or the media for political ends in the 12 months before an election. The law was forced through parliament with little debate mid-June. Since then, Karoui has also been charged with money laundering. Though these constraints did not stop him from submitting his candidacy for the elections. The Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) still has to announce if he will be admitted to the race.
The electoral process
After the closure of the deadline, out of a total of 97 candidates in the early presidential election, only 31 have submitted the necessary sponsorships, said Vice-President of ISIE Farouk Bouasker. "Twenty candidates for the presidential election managed to earn citizen sponsorships while eleven candidates secured sponsorships from MPs,” he stated. "More than 65 nominations were rejected due to lack of a financial guarantee and the necessary sponsorships," he pointed out. Candidates have to file a financial guarantee of 10 thousand dinars. Submission of nominations began on August 2 and ended on August 9 at 18. The election campaign is set for 2 to 13 September after which there will be a day of ‘electoral silence’. Polls open on Sunday 15 September and preliminary results are expected on the 17th. If none of the candidates wins a majority, there will be second round.
The vote follows the death at age 92 last month of Beji Caid Essebsi, the first president to be democratically elected in Tunisia after the popular uprising of 2011. Tunisia’s president mainly has authority over foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.
Photo: FB Ettakatol