On October 13, Tunisians will vote in the second round of the presidential elections. While many progressive sectors were hopeful that the electoral process would be an exercise to consolidate and strengthen the young Tunisian democracy, it instead has been characterized by irregularities and violations. The Workers’ Party, the leading leftist force in the country, has called for a boycott of the elections.
The two candidates are Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui. The winner of the election will have control over the armed forces, foreign policy, defense, and national security in the north African country and be the second elected president since the revolution in 2011 that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Who are the candidates?
Kais Saied is a 61-year-old-law professor and is running as an independent candidate.
Nabil Karoui is a 56-year-old media mogul and founder of the Nessma TV channel. He was arrested on August 23 on charges of money laundering and tax evasion and was released on October 9 in time for the elections. In the first round of elections which were held three weeks ago, Saied won 18.4% of the votes and Karoui won 15.6%.
Saied has been projecting an image of being “clean” while Karoui is known for his social and philanthropic work. However, many are critical of both the candidates. Saied’s main support base is reported to be those with Islamist political leanings. The candidate himself has taken conservative positions on various social issues. Karoui, meanwhile, is seen as enmeshed in a web of corruption and shady financial dealings.
The new president will have to work closely with a government that is yet to be formed after last week’s parliamentary elections threw up a divided verdict. The Islamist party Ennahda emerged as the largest party but obtained only 52 of the 217 seats in parliament.
The election takes place amid a stagnant economy, high unemployment and anger among the people due to the austerity measures implemented on the directions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Massive protests had taken place in the country in January 2018 against these measures.
Concerns have also been raised about the possibility of fraud and irregularities in the presidential election. This, combined with the lack of any alternatives put forward by the candidates, has led to the boycott call by the Workers’ Party.
A statement by the party said, “The process was marked by violations, breaches and ambiguities and the incoming president will not be able to give any guarantees regarding the future of Tunisia and its people.” The statement pointed to the excessive spending, corruption and misuse of media in the first round, as well as reports of foreign lobbying firms and digital media platforms aiding certain parties.
The statement added that “The boycott would be a message to the new president so that he will not be able to claim a mandate from the majority if he targets the constitution, freedom, economic, social and cultural rights and sovereignty of the homeland.”
Workers’ Party leader Ali Jallouli explained that both candidates represented dangerous tendencies for the country. While pointing out that Karoui’s alleged association with criminal activities made him ineligible, he challenged the narrative of Saied being clean as the reason to elect him. Jallouli pointed out that not only was Saied mainly backed by Ennahda, but that his policy proposals for the administration came from archaic and chaotic 19th century ideas. He also noted that Saied was associated in various ways with the Ben Ali regime.