Tunisian parties begin premature electoral race

Article Summary
In light of the breakthrough achieved by female candidates in Tunisia’s municipal elections, women are hoping the 2019 presidential election will also witness more female participation.

TUNIS, Tunisia — Leila Hammami, a Tunisian university professor, researcher and consultant to international organizations in Britain, declared she will run in next year’s Tunisian presidential election, after her candidacy was rejected in 2014.

In an interview with Russian news agency Sputnik July 16, Hammami said it was time for women to take up important positions in the state, including the position of president. She also stressed that one of the main reasons she will run for president is that Tunisia needs a new political figure who is distant from the past and present conflicts — someone who will be up for the challenges in the international arena.

In the 2014 election, the Independent High Authority for Elections rejected the candidacy of three female candidates: Hammami; Amina al-Karoui, the head of the Democratic Movement for Reform and Construction, which represents itself as a moderate political party; and Badra Gaaloul, the head of the International Center for Strategic, Security and Military Studies, which represents itself as a nongovernmental organization.

Kalthoum Kennou, a judge and former president of the nongovernmental Association of Tunisian Judges, was the first woman to run for president of Tunisia, in November 2014, after the Independent High Authority for Elections approved her candidacy. Kennou was among 26 other candidates, all male, who were approved after meeting the conditions of candidacy, out of a total of 70 candidates who petitioned to run in the presidential race. Among the 70 people who applied, 40 men and three women —​ Hammami, Karoui and Gaaloul ​​— were rejected by the Independent High Authority for Elections for failing to meet the conditions of candidacy stipulated in Article 74 of the constitution.

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Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi, the Nidaa Tunis candidate, won the 2014 election runoff against the outgoing president, Mohamed Moncef Marzouki.

Asmahan Bourqaa, a member of the nongovernmental Tunisian Association of the Democratic Women, told Al-Monitor, “The 2019 presidential election will be a good opportunity for female candidates to participate in decision-making along with men. A woman can be the president of the state.”

She added, “It is true that the Tunisian society is patriarchal, but the municipal elections results showed that a large portion of the community is ready to give its vote to a woman and count on women to carry this difficult responsibility.”

According to the Independent High Electoral Commission, women accounted for 47.7% of the total number of winners and headed 29.55% of the lists in the municipal elections held on May 9 for the first time after the fall of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime.

Meanwhile, Essebsi, 91, confirmed in a television interview in February that he will not run in the upcoming elections. He further denied claims that he will bequeath power to his son.

Abdel Jabbar Madouri, a political analyst and chief editor of Sawt Ech-Chaab weekly magazine, told Al-Monitor that the Tunisian president’s old age will be his weak point in responding to the partisans’ call for him to run for a second term, particularly since his son and son-in-law are at loggerheads over Nidaa Tunis’ candidate in the 2019 presidential election.

For his part, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed told France 24 in February that he is not running in the 2019 presidential election, particularly since Nidaa Tunis’ current leadership has been critical of his government's policies. Nevertheless, Madouri perceived that if the Ennahda movement endorsed Chahed, it could prompt him to reconsider his decision to run in the presidential race.

Ennahda spokesman Emad al-Houmairi told Diwan FM June 27 that Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda movement, has what it takes to become president of the republic, stating that he is the movement’s main candidate.

Houmairi added, “Ennahda’s organizational bodies and Shura Council are in charge of choosing our candidate for the elections, who could be from inside or outside the movement.”

Ennahda’s political bureau issued a statement July 16 demanding that Chahed refrain from running in next year’s elections.

In a related vein, Sami Fatnassi, a member of parliament for Ennahda, which has 68 representatives in parliament out of 217 members, told Al-Monitor that it is too early to talk about the presidential election. He added that the race between the parties’ candidates had started once the 2014 elections ended without a political truce. He perceived that Ennahda is less likely to endorse Chahed as the movement’s candidate in the upcoming elections.

Ramzi Khamis, a leader of Nidaa Tunis, which has 56 representatives in parliament, told Al-Monitor that the presidential election campaign was launched prematurely.

Speaking to Nessma TV July 24, Hamma Hammami, the Popular Front party’s candidate in the 2014 presidential race, called for early presidential elections given the harsh economic crisis crippling the country.

Political analyst Mohamed Bou Oud told Al-Monitor, “The economic crisis in light of the devaluation of the Tunisian dinar against the dollar and the euro and the rise in the trade deficit has turned into a political crisis as the presidential election approaches in the fall of 2019.”

He said, “Ennahda and Tunisian opposition parties, namely the Popular Front, fear that Prime Minister Chahed will use state institutions to exert political influence in his premature election campaigns. They are also concerned about Essebsi’s attempts to bequeath power to his son, who is the head of Nidaa Tunis’ executive bureau.”

Bou Oud further explained that the internal crisis plaguing the ruling Nidaa Tunis has escalated the political crisis in the country, especially after the conflict intensified between the executive director of the movement, Hafez Caid Essebsi (the president’s son) and Chahed, who is also a member of Nidaa Tunis. The latter has been accused of shifting attention to the 2019 elections while failing to address the country’s economic woes.

On Aug. 1, the local Le Maghreb newspaper published statistics from a poll conducted in July by the survey institute Sigma Conseil. According to the stats, Tunisians’ satisfaction with Chahed dropped 8.4%, and 5.9% for Essebsi.

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Found in: women in politics, youssef chahed, beji caid essebsi, tunisian elections, tunisian government, presidential elections, women in society

Mohamed Ali Ltifi is a Tunisian journalist who has worked with several local and international newspapers, including the London-based Arabic-language Al-Arabi al-Jadeed and Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism.

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