Tunisia: Presidential Vote in Tunisia Tests Democracy

People show support for Nabil Karoui at a final rally in Tunis, Tunisia, September 13, 2019.
15 September 2019

Polls have opened for a presidential election in Tunisia as it faces economic troubles and terrorist threats. It is only the country's second democratic presidential election.

Tunisians are casting ballots on Sunday in the North African country's second democratic presidential election, with a crowded field of 26 candidates vying to lead the country through high unemployment, poverty and attacks by militants.

The election was brought forward by the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi in July. The 92-year-old had been Tunisia's first democratically elected president following the 2011 Arab Spring revolt that ousted former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The top contenders for the five-year presidential term are media mogul Nabil Karoui, an anti-elite populist who was arrested last month on money laundering and tax evasion charges, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, and Abdelfattah Mourou of the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha.

Karoui's arrest, which his supporters say is politically motivated, has dominated the campaign in recent weeks.

Abdeldrim Zbidi, who served as Chahed's defense minister, is running as an independent but has received the backing of several secular parties, including Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes.

Test for democracy

With no overwhelming front runner, the election is viewed as a challenge for Tunisia's fledgling democracy.

Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, has called the vote a democratic "test" because "it may require accepting the victory of a polarizing candidate," such as Karoui.

While the Arab Spring protests brought violence and turmoil to Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya, Tunisia emerged as a democracy.

However, the promises of democracy have been undermined by youth unemployment of around 35%, widespread poverty and a wave of terrorist attacks that damaged the economically vital tourism industry.

All the main candidates have vowed to boost the struggling economy and tackle terrorism.

Crowded field may trigger second-round runoff

More than 100,000 police and troops are deployed across the country to keep the peace for 7 million registered voters.

Preliminary results are expected on Monday or Tuesday. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, a second-round runoff must be held no later than November 3.

Tunisia also holds parliamentary elections on October 6.

Tunisia's president is responsible for foreign and defense policy, while many other portfolios are handled by a prime minister chosen by parliament.

(AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

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