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Tunisia election ends in “the robot” becoming president

Aftermath: President Beji Caid Essebsi died in July, triggering an earlier election. Source, Wikimedia Commons

Tunisia’s election was held last Sunday, on October 13. The election was called early after the country’s president Beji Caid Essebsi died at age 92 after health complications. The election has concluded with Kais Saied, a retired Professor of law, becoming President with 73% of the vote. 61 year old Mr Saied gained large support from young voters after he ran a campaign almost completely devoid of marketing, focused on anti-corruption and integrity. Nicknamed ‘The Robot’ Mr Saied is seen as incorruptible by many in Tunisia and has promised electoral reform including changes to how local representatives are chosen.

Mr Saied is also a very conservative candidate having accused foreign powers of promoting homosexuality in Tunisia, he also opposes equal inheritance for men and women and supports the death penalty. His opponent, the man perceived as a liberal populist media mogul Nabil Karouri was released from jail only four days before the day of voting, Mr Karoui was arrested on charges of money laundering and tax fraud, he denies these charges . He was released after a Tunisian court annulled the detention order, however he still faces the charges and the date of a final verdict is unknown. 

Elections were originally meant for November this year, however, the death of the former president Beji Caid Essebsi brought forward the process. The two candidates who became front runners were originally outliers having had to beat 24 other candidates to challenge each other. In the first round of voting earlier in October, Mr Saied polled 18.4% while Mr Karouri polled 15.6%.

Mr Saied becomes the nation’s second president following the revolution in 2014. The Tunisian Revolution was a 28-day long series of civil movements aimed at ousting long time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Once Ben Ali was removed a process of democratisation spread throughout the country and led to the Arab Spring which brought about revolution and, in some places, brought democracy to many nations in the North of Africa and the Middle East. Kais Saied was one of the men who drafted the constitution after the fall of the former president.

Eight years after the Arab Spring, the Tunisian democracy is very young and as such vulnerable. However, observers in the country from the International Republican Institution (IRI) argue the country has come a long way yet is still in its rebuilding phase. Jeffrey England, a member of the International Democratic Institute told the BBC that “In a regional context Tunisia is light years ahead, but in the middle of it, it is difficult [for people] to see that.” Tunisia’s new leader faces many problems such as an unemployment rate of 15.3% and an economy described by the World Bank as a “country of contrasts” however, poverty is down 5.3% from 20.5% in 2010.

In the coming months we should expect attempts to complete electoral reform in Tunisia as well as the potential for the regression of rights for homosexual people and women due to the conservative attitude of Mr Saied. Only time will tell whether ‘The Robot’s’ policies will strengthen democracy in Tunisia or tear down this new democracy.

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