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Historic Presidential Election in Tunisia

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By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security

For the first time, Tunisians have gathered to in an open democratic election this Sunday to choose their head of state.

Participation was reported as over 50 percent. The national vote comes amidst heightened levels of civil unrest and terrorism.

According to Deutchese Welle, there were 11,000 polling stations and tens of thousands of police and troops guarding them against Islamist militants.

On a slightly positive side, it was reported that there were no incidence of violence for some 54 percent of elections. Al Qaeda terrorists located near the Tunisian-Algerian border also threaten the security environment. But internally as well, they suffer the violent extremism, for example, with many going to Syria to join ISIL; and according to some estimates the biggest number of foreign fighters filling ISIL ranks are coming from Tunisian youths.

Still, it has been almost four years since the spark of the Arab Spring and the overthrow of the autocratic one party regime of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The country has weathered a 2013 shut down with secular protestors rallying against the Islamists in power after two opposition leaders were shot. In October of 2013, the Islamist-led constitutional assembly passed a more progressive constitution that allowed for a new temporary prime minister and secular elections of the nation’s parliament for October and the presidency for this month.

There are thirty presidential candidates in the running but the real contest is between the interim president, Moncef Marzouki and anti-Islamist Beji Caid Essebsi. Leftists have also been popular. The make-up is an electic bunch, including a millionaire, former political prisoners, dissidents a woman and so on.

The 87 year old Mr. Essebsi is a carryover from President Ben Ali and held the lead in the polls. His party is called the secular Nidaa Tounes which took first place in parliamentary elections. And Mr. Marzourki’s followers have been associated with the climate of “violence and terror.” Meanwhile, Mr. Marzouki calls anyone associated with the old regime before the revolution, “the oppressors.”

So much of this presidential election is the national decision of the old versus new. The past was at least stable. The present and the future are chaotic and many blame the Islamist political parties. Mr. Marzouki is Mr. Essebsi’s leading opposition and represents himself as the new. He has campaigned for human rights and being the personification of the revolution that overthrew the hardline Ben Ali regime. His party is the Islamist Ennahda who were defeated by the secular Nidaa Tounes party in parliament last month; that defeat of the Ennahda might indicate that the people want the Islamists out of office completely and are more interested in the stability, security, economic well-being, employment and basic functions of state, rather than inserting religion as a panacea.

As of January 2014, a caretaker government led by independents and acting Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa has been in charge of overseeing the democratic transition. The election of the president, according to the new constitution, will allow the president to appoint the prime minister. The executive power is shared between the president and the prime minister, but with the presidency being more symbolic.

Election results are expected to be released this Tuesday. Without a majority vote, there will be run-off on December 31.

 

 

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