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Situation Update - Tunisia

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TUNISIA TO HOLD ITS SECOND PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SINCE THE 2011 REVOLUTION

  • Tunisia’s presidential elections are scheduled to take place on 15 September

  • If a candidate fails to secure an absolute majority, a run-off vote will be held between the two candidates with the highest number of votes

  • The presidential election was brought forward by two months following the death of former President Beji Caid Essebsi in July

  • More than 7 million are eligible to vote in the presidential election, which will be followed by parliamentary elections on 6 October

  • The economy and national security are primary concerns for the electorate, with Tunisia remaining under a state of emergency since a series of terror attacks in 2015, which significantly damaged its tourism sector

Tunisia election 2019 2
Situation

On 15 September, Tunisia will be holding its second presidential election since the 2011 revolution, which brought democracy to the North African country. The vote, which was initially scheduled to take place in November, was brought forward by the Tunisian Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi in July. The move was to ensure that a new president would take office within 90 days, as required by the constitution. The preliminary results of the vote are scheduled to be announced on 17 September. However, if, as expected, an absolute majority of more than 50 percent of the vote is not secured by a single candidate, a second run-off vote will be held between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. 

In August, 26 candidates were shortlisted for the presidential elections, among which stands current Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, leader of the Tahya Tounes (Long Live Tunisia) party, a party which was only formed in January after Chahed split from Essebsi's ruling party, the Nidaa Tounes. Other candidates include Nabil Karoui of the Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) party, who is a businessman and the owner of the influential Nessma TV, along with former interim President Moncef Marzouki of the Al-Irada (The Will) party, as well as several other prominent politicians.

Despite being arrested last month on tax fraud and money laundering charges, the ISIE confirmed that Karoui has not been removed from the running. Karoui was nearly barred from contending in June after parliament passed amendments to the electoral law, which barred any candidate who handed out “favours in cash or in-kind” in the year before the vote, but the bill was neither rejected nor enacted by Essebsi at the time, meaning Karoui could still run. Notably, a poll in June showed Karoui to be the frontrunner of the presidential elections. However, should Karoui be found guilty, this would prevent him from becoming president. Several of the candidates, including the only two female candidates, Selma Elloumi Rekik and Abir Moussi, have placed national security, economic prosperity and, in turn, reducing unemployment at the centre of their campaigns. Rekik and Moussi have also emphasised the need to counter growing fundamentalism in Tunisia, which they report threatens women’s freedoms. Tunisia is considered one of the most progressive in terms of women’s rights among Arab nations.

Three weeks after the presidential election on 15 September, parliamentary elections will be held to elect the 217 seats of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People. The assembly’s role is to draft and pass laws, submit questions to the government and it has the power to conduct a vote of no-confidence in the government. The party or coalition that gains the largest number of seats will be tasked with forming the next government and selecting the head of the cabinet, the prime minister, who is responsible for domestic affairs and the workings of the government and its institutions. Comparatively, the president oversees foreign policy, defence and national security.

Analysis

The presidential and parliamentary elections are being held at a time of heightened political tensions. Significantly, since the last election in 2014, Tunisia’s political parties have suffered divisions, which was illustrated when Chahed and his supporters split from the Nidaa Tounes. While 109 seats are required for a majority in parliament, it is unlikely one party will secure this number. In 2014, Nidaa Tounes secured the most seats, 86; however, this is expected to be diluted by the emergence of Tahya Tounes, in addition to an increase in independent candidates. The possible outcome of greater variety within Tunisia’s parliament may cause difficulties for the assembly when it debates laws due to the differing views. 

As a result of the move to bring the presidential election forward, the parliamentary elections will now take place following the first round of presidential voting. It has been speculated that this will allow the two front running candidates to leverage their party’s success based off of their performance. Prime Minister Chahed has already outlined that should he be elected as president, his tenancy will focus on three key projects: creating a constitutional court, which has been stalled since 2014, increasing ties with neighbouring countries and the controversial suggestion to remove parliamentary immunity, which will likely prove popular with voters who wish to see more accountability from the government. 

A significant focus of the election campaigning has focused on the future of Tunisia’s economy. Since 2011, the government has struggled to prevent a downturn in economic performance, requiring financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Between 2010 and 2017, the national debt increased by more than 30 percent, whilst economic growth has remained low. Impelled by a weak economy, austerity measures have been introduced and unemployment figures have risen, especially among Tunisia’s youth. As a result, the nation has experienced protests and strikes in the education, customs and health sectors. In addition, leaders of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) have accused the government of not fulfilling its commitments, including refusal to raise the salaries of public servants. The new president and government will face the task of bringing growth to Tunisia’s economy, including improving employment opportunities, which many have promised, as well as satisfying public sector bodies. 

As well as the economy, security is a primary concern for the electorate, particularly following a series of Islamic State (IS) claimed terrorist attacks in 2015 that prompted the government to impose a nationwide state of emergency, which remains in place. This included an attack on the Bardo National Museum in the capital Tunis in March 2015 that killed 22 people, followed by a shooting attack targeting tourists near Sousse three months later that killed 38 people. This was then followed by the bombing of a bus carrying presidential guards in November 2015, which killed 12 people. Whilst the Tunisian tourism sector steadily recovered following these incidents, terrorism concerns were reignited this year after two separate IS-claimed suicide bombings occurred in Tunis on 27 June targeting the police, and another suicide bombing occurred on 2 July during a police chase. Additionally, on 2 September, the same day that the presidential election campaigning began, three suspected terrorists were killed during a security operation in the town of Hidra, which borders Algeria, highlighting the threat armed groups still pose to the country. The new government will be required to continue efforts to tackle extremism in the country, as well as securing the nation from neighbouring conflicts. 

Advice
  • Expect heightened security ahead of the upcoming elections and on the election days.

  • Prepare for possible travel disruption due to heightened security measures.

  • Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, where possible. Even events that look peaceful can quickly deteriorate.

  • Maintain situational awareness in light of security risks, particularly at transportation hubs and in public places.

  • Follow the advice of local authorities at all times, including any travel restrictions.

  • Review your personal security plans regularly.

  • Monitor local and national media for updates.