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Tunisian elections show rejection of post-revolution politics

Claire Dujardin, MSc International Politics

September and October have been politically intense months for Tunisians. They were expected to vote on three different occasions: 15 September for the presidential election; 6 October for the legislative election; and 13 October to choose between two presidential candidates in the second round of the elections. The death of the former President Béji Caïd Essebsi on 25 July caused the two major elections to overlap.

In the midst of rushed political campaigns, voters had a large pool of candidates to choose from during the first round of the elections – a total of 26 approved candidates. Results saw a voting turnout of 48.98%, which was 13.9% less than 2014. This election, the second since the adoption of the new constitution of 2014 after the revolution of 2011, was deserted by a lot of Tunisian voters. The legislative election also suffered from voters defection, with a turnout of 41%, compared to 68% in 2014.

In addition to the low turn-out, the results of the elections show a particular rejection of traditional parties and leaders.

In addition to the low turn-out, the results of the elections show a particular rejection of traditional parties and leaders. Nidaa Tounes, the party who had the most seats in the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in 2014, has lost 83 seats, becoming one of the least popular parties of the new Assembly. The Islamist party Ennahda has lost 17 seats but has become the most popular party, followed closely by Qalb Tounes, the party founded by Nabil Karoui and a newcomer in the Assembly.

The results were no less surprising in terms of the presidential election, with two anti-system candidates qualifying for the second round. Tunisian voters had to choose between the constitutional law professor Kaïs Saïed, and the media tycoon and recently imprisoned, Nabil Karoui.

Nabil Karoui, owner of the influential Nessma TV channel, is also known for creating the charity Khalil Tounes, which is especially active in rural Tunisia. The Tunisian Assembly tried and failed to vote special amendments to prevent him from running for president. This was after his declaration of candidacy, when opinion polls revealed that he might be placed first. On 23 August, Nabil Karoui was arrested for money laundering following an accusation from 2017. He was released four days before the election by the Court of Cassation, after claims of being a victim of a political use of justice. Unable to campaign since August, he was still able to participate in the last debate before the second round, though he eventually lost to Kaïs Saïed.

The new president of Tunisia is a newcomer in politics. Without any party, Kaïs Saïed expects to govern with the help of other parties. He has officially been endorsed by Ennahda and other Islamist parties for the second round of the presidential election. The rigid professor, nicknamed ‘Robocop’ and who uses literary Arab in his speeches, cultivates the image of an honest man, as opposed to the corrupt figures of the political class. He appealed to young voters by claiming to follow the revolution’s ideals. However, his conservative ideas are a point of contention – especially his support of the death penalty, his rejection of gender equality concerning inheritance, and his position on the penalization of homosexuality. 8 years after the revolution, Tunisian voters have chosen a President who used to appear on TV to explain the Constitution of 2014 to the public. This result seemingly erases the past 5 years of post-Revolution politics to start again from scratch.

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