Untold democracy is taking root in Tunisia

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The upcoming presidential vote in Tunisia is set to mark a great milestone in the country’s political history since it gained independence. Following the demise of President Beji Caid Essebsi, the North African country will head to the ballot earlier than expected as required by the law. The constitution requires presidential polls to be held within 90 days after the death of the incumbent.

Before the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections boss Nabil Baffoun had late last month, set November 17 as the date of the elections. Following the death of the President, civil societies and political parties had called fruitlessly on Nabil Baffoun to push the date forward. Mr Essebsi, who was serving his last term in the office died on July 25, a few months to the end of his term after severe illness, as reported by Tunisian Media. In line with the constitution, the President of the Tunisian House of Representative Mohamed Ennaceur took over as an interim President. Despite calls from various political parties and organization to give parties and candidates enough time to prepare for the election, Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections boss Nabil Baffoun, in fact, moved the election date backwards to September 25.

“The office of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections has set the date of September 15 for the presidential elections,” announced Mr Baffoun.

The 92-year-old came to power in 2014 after trouncing his opponents in the first democratic elections held in the country. Tunisia had witnessed a political revolution from December 2010 to January 2011 which led to the ouster of her long-serving President Zine El Abidne Ben Ali. The removal of President Zine El Abidne Ben Ali was the result of the Tunisian Revolution, an intensive 28-day campaign of civil resistance, which started in Tunisia and led to the mega Arab Spring. The uprising was prompted by high rates of unemployment, corruption, lack of freedom of expression, high inflation and poor living conditions. Despite being advanced in age, Essebsi showed some efforts in the fight against corruption, inequality and advocated for human rights.

Reports from the just concluded nominations of the presidential hopefuls indicate that about a hundred people have expressed their interest in the country’s top seat. 98 contenders beat the deadline on last Friday, August 9 by submitting their nomination papers. Among the contenders are the Prime Minister Youssef Chahedi, media tycoon Nabil Karoui, Defence Minister Abdel Zbidi, lawyer and the vice president of Ennahda, Islamist party Abdel Fattah Mourou. The process began on August 2.

Others are former Ministers Mehdi Jomaa and Hamadi Jebali, ex-interim president Moncef Marzouki, Mounir Baatour (LGBTIQ activist), Tunisian belly dancer Nermine Sfar, the only woman in the race. The star has assured the residents of the Arabic countries positive changes once elected. She has vowed to slash the price of the bread, reintroduce Safseri, Tunisian headscarf by prohibiting hijab, and amend the law to award women two-thirds of inheritance instead of one-third. She further promised to heavily sanction men who give assurance to ladies that they would marry them then later backtrack.

“Tunisia will be better than Italy. It will become a country of art and freedom. People will no longer think about leaving it,” she spoke to the local press.

The lawyer Mounir Baatour’s name will enter into the book of history as the first openly gay to vie for the top seat in the Arab countries. Even though the Tunisia’s law criminalizes homosexuality, Baatour has beaten all the odds in a bid to succeed Essebsi. He is fighting to halt right abuses LGBTIQ community is subjected to. He said one sure thing he will do when elected is scraping off Article 230 of the penal code which is anti-homosexuality.

The electoral body will announce the final list of valid candidates by the end of August followed by campaigns scheduled to start on September 2 up to September 13. The election results will be released two days after the vote and in case no candidate garners 50 per cent of the total votes cast there will be runoff probably by November 3.

The following are the requirements one should meet to lead Tunisia: He or she must be at least 35 years old, must not be from any other religion apart from Islam, must be a Tunisian by birth and must not hold any other nationality. The next President should be a person who is in the forefront to assuage Tunisian perennial challenges such as youth unemployment, inequality and corruption. Who is up to the task? Prime Minister Youssef Chahedi? Abdel Fattah Mourou? Or any other candidate?

By Samuel Ouma | @journalist_27