Changes Shake Up Tunisia's Presidential Election By Phillip Howard
The structure and dynamics of the upcoming presidential election in Tunisia has drastically changed from its original plan since the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi last month. Previously, presidential elections were to be held before parliamentary elections in November, and will now be held next month.
This prompted a wide variety candidates, along with a “shortlist” of 36 contenders, including multiple former prime ministers, the current defense minister, and a former president. There are also candidates running as complete outsiders, including a media mogul, a fugitive, and for the first time in Tunisia’s history, an official candidate from Ennahda, a socially conservative party who holds the largest bloc in the Tunisian parliament.
The news of an official candidate running for Ennahda comes as a complete surprise. In the past, the Ennahda party used alliances to support nonparty candidates. Abdelfattah Mourou is seen as a moderate conservative who is considered a favorite to win the presidency due to his likeability among urban voters.
Sharan Grewal, a visiting fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, said that nominating Mourou “is certainly the most palatable candidate Ennahda could offer up to the secularists,” a group who is fundamental to any voter that identifies with Ennahda.
The shifting dynamic of the election has created challenges, including logistics, legality, and confusion among voters. “There is little time to educate voters on the differences between candidates,” observed Sarah Yerkes at the Carnegie Endowment for International Politics, “and why it is so important to take part in [Tunisia’s] second-ever democratic presidential elections.”
For Tunisia, a country who has for years been characterized by remarkable predictability, it’s worth watching how their September 15 election will unfold.
Phillip Howard is a graduate student at Utica College