Twenty-one individuals have submitted their applications as candidates in early presidential elections in Tunisia, though as the deadline for submitting applications approaches tomorrow the country’s heavyweights are waiting for the last minute to make their decisions known.
The Islamist Ennahda Movement, which won the country’s first free legislative elections in 2011 after the ouster of former president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali, indicated that it might field a candidate, but up until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press its shura council, or executive committee, had not yet resolved the issue.
In a recent interview with the US channel Bloomberg, Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi, 78, said he or another senior member might seek the presidency if a power-sharing deal with the current prime minister could not be reached.
Tunisian premier Youssef Chahed is expected to announce his presidential bid soon.
“We’re on the verge of talks with Chahed. If we find a consensus, that would be good,” Ghannouchi said. “If we don’t find a consensus, there will be a candidate,” whom he said could be either him or Ennahda’s Vice President Abdel-Fattah Mourou.
“One can be a prime minister and another president, and then there is the parliament,” he said, describing three leadership roles that could be shared. Ennahda could make the decision as early as Saturday, he told Bloomberg.
The once-banned Islamist Movement formed the Ennahda Party following Tunisia’s revolution which triggered the Arab Spring. Eight years later, Tunisia remains the only Arab country that has survived the political turmoil that has engulfed Libya, Egypt and Syria following their uprisings.
It is also the only Arab country where the Islamist movements are part of the political process and have ministers in the government.
Following the 2013-2014 political crisis in Tunisia where secular fears of the Islamisation of the state were exacerbated following the assassination of two secular politicians, Ennahda stepped down after a new constitution was implemented in 2014.
In the October 2014 general elections, Ennahda came in second with 27.79 per cent of the vote, forming a coalition government with Nidaa Tunis, the largest secular party. But it did not offer or endorse a candidate in the November 2014 presidential elections.
Nidaa Tunis’ leader Beji Caid Essebsi, who won the presidential elections, died at the age of 92 last month. He had said that he was not planning to run for a second term in the scheduled November 2019 presidential elections. His death led to the advance of the election day to mid-September.
Former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki said he was considering running for the presidency for the second time based on his party’s nomination.
“My party has decided to nominate me for the presidency, and I am in the last stages of discussion. I will announce my final decision on Wednesday,” Marzouki said on Monday in statements reported by the Tunisian radio station Mosaïque FM.
Tunisia’s Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE) announced that 21 candidates have submitted their applications thus far.
The campaigns are scheduled to run from 2 to 13 September, with the preliminary results announced two days after the polls. Tunisia’s electoral law stipulates that a candidate must receive 10 recommendations from MPs, or 40 from mayors, or 10,000 from the voters in at least 10 constituencies, in order to be considered.
Should Ennahda field a candidate in the elections, it will be a turning point in the North African country’s political landscape and will likely antagonise other Arab countries where Islamist movements are either banned or designated as terrorist groups.
In the Bloomberg interview, Ghannouchi attempted to quell such fears. “We’ve exited the concept of Political Islam. Islam here is tied to freedoms. Whatever contradicts freedom is not Islamic. And Islam is tied to the nation state. We do not strive for a country that represents all Muslims, but only one that represents all Tunisians,” he said.
“I always tell our friends in Arab countries that the Tunisian revolution is not an export commodity,” Ghannouchi said. “It is a commodity for domestic consumption. We don’t export revolution. We export olive oil.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Tunisia gears up for early elections