Tunisian presidential elections take center stage

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As presidential elections in Tunisia draw near, political powers in the country start to form alliances, all to the benefit of the Ennahda movement.

As the elections draw near, the time for maneuvers is upon us! Lobbies and influential groups are preparing themselves for the presidential elections, and the internal struggles are beginning to show some results.

The presidential election debate has reached a point where it overshadows the issue of legislative elections. Although the constitution gives many of the powers of the executive branch to the head of government, the president of the republic evokes some feelings … and portfolios.

The clans have begun to take shape and prepare for the final battle, namely the presidential seat — a chair that has maintained its attraction despite the fact that it was emptied of its substance by the Tunisian Constitution. As usual, a war of sound bites and media maneuvers is taking place in the so-called democratic camp.

Let's start with one of the leading candidates for the presidential race: Beji Caid Essebsi. At a conference held on Friday, Sept. 12, Essebsi said there were three people in the party who were working to destabilize Nidaa Tunis and prevent him from becoming president of the republic. Is it the imminence of the elections, or a sudden renewed seriousness that has revealed these bad elements? We do not know. We do know that the decision came a few days later with the removal of Omar S'habou and Noureddine Ben Ticha.

This brings us to the second camp: that of Mustapha Kamel Nabli. Regarding Nidaa Tunis’ two dismissed members: if S'habou was removed for being against Essebsi's candidacy, Ben Ticha was removed due to his support for Nabli. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, the former governor of the central bank will announce his candidacy for the presidential race. His intention to run for president has been known for some time, although Nabli has tried to keep it under wraps.

The supporters of Nabli are numerous, and he has a certain status both nationally and internationally. Supporters include Kamel Jendoubi, president of the former Independent Higher Election Authority (ISIE), who published a letter in Business News to make public his support for Nabli. One of the first statements by Jendoubi hinted that the lobbyist and businessman Kamel Letaief would use his networks to serve the former governor. Thus, Nabli's team includes Letaief, as well as Najla Chaar as communications director, Zied Milad as campaign manager and, finally, Jendoubi.

Jendoubi brings us to the third camp of this presidential elections. This clan is that of Kamel Morjane. It could also be extended to include Abderrahim Zouari and Mondher Zenaidi. In fact, as soon as Jendoubi announced his support for Nabli, the former minister of defense and foreign affairs stated that the elections were rigged. He mentioned the case of Mongi Bhar, his party’s candidate in Hammam-Lif, whose place had been taken by Maya Jeribi.

Accordingly, the Al-Jomhuri (Republican) Party issued a statement describing Marjane by his former status of minister in the [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali regime.

In a statement to the press, the secretary-general of the party said, “I do not like talking about myself, but I could give Morjane a few lessons in activism.” Al-Jomhuri has once again proved its political immaturity, since it was clear that the real target of this attack was Jendoubi and, behind him, Nabli. The head of the Al-Moubadara (Initiative) Party is trying to discredit his rival Nabli, accusing him of having a forger at his side in order to push away his electoral base. However, this maneuver by Morjane will deprive him of any potential transfer of votes in the event of a second round, where he would be running as a candidate alongside Al-Jomhuri. The targeted person, Jendoubi, contented himself by saying that these accusations were serious and irresponsible, as they undermined the credibility of the electoral process.

In the camp of Ben Ali's former ministers, we also find Abderrahim Zouari, who is keeping his distance for now and is not particularly involved in the political and media scene. There is also Zenaidi, who made a triumphant return to Tunis after three years of exile in Paris.

The three mentioned camps spare each other nothing. The day after the Zenaidi's return, Khemaies Ksila, official spokesman of Nidaa Tunis, said that Zenaidi and his cronies were being controlled by Ben Ali via Skype! This was certainly a clumsy attack, but it is still an attack. Nidaa Tunis, however, has not attacked candidates like Zouari or Morjane. Even worse, no one knows yet whether Zenaidi is a candidate. It is necessary, though, to dampen the notion of clan in the latter case, since Morjane, Zenaidi and Zouari will be battling hard even though they stood side by side at the pre-revolution ministerial councils.

A fourth camp seems about to make its appearance. If this turns out to be true, it would shake the Tunisian political ground. More and more rumors swirl around the possible presidential candidacy of Mehdi Jomaa. According to our sources, signatures will be collected in support of the current head of government. We recall that Jomaa, in an interview with the Tunisian News Agency (TAP) said he would no longer be head of the government. However, he remained evasive about a possible presidential candidacy. We also note that the prime minister's communication services, usually so responsive, have not commented yet on this rumor that they cannot ignore. If Jomaa is a candidate, the other three camps will have to recalculate the situation and prepare new strategies.

Obviously, this is all in favor of the Ennahda movement. The Islamist party has stayed above the fray, saying it is not interested in the presidential elections, in particular by pushing its consensus candidate proposal to the furthest limits. Ennahda keeps this card up its sleeve, leaving the democratic camp tearing itself apart over the presidential elections. The more the democratic parties neglect the legislative elections, the greater the chance the Islamist party has to win them.

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Found in: zine el abidine ben ali, tunisia, presidential elections, legislative elections, ennahda movement
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