TUNISIAN BACKWARD RACE

The news of the death of the first democratically elected president, Béji Caïd Essebsi, on July 25, led to call early elections in less than three months, according to the Tunisian constitutional order. The result fulfilled the forecasts as to what was going to be unpredictable. The election campaign was marked by the emergence of a populist figure that is campaigning from prison Monarguia, where he is in pretrial detention since August 23, on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.

Although one of the main features of Tunisian politics is given by a strong parliamentarianism, the presidential elections on October 15, were not unimportant. During the transition, the country has been chaired by the leader of the Assembly of People's Representatives, Mohamed Ennaceur, who along with President Essebsi were members of the center-left Nidaa Tounes party, which could be translated as “ call for Tunisia ” or “ the Tunisian convocation ”.  The party was created in 2012 by Essebsi, and was the result of the Arab springs of the 2010 -2012. The party included ideological groups as social democracy, socioliberalism, secularism, and Bourguibism (those who consider themselves heirs of the first president of the Tunisian Republic, Habib Burguiba between 1957 and 1987.)

The trend in Tunisia before these presidential elections is determined by the inability to reach a candidate an absolute majority in a single election. This situation is given by a strong political fragmentation, evidenced in elections presidential of 2014, when a large electoral offer eventually fragmented national politics. In order to compete on this elections in the first round, 97 nominations were submitted, of which 26 were approved, the rest being rejected by the independent electoral control board due to lack of sponsorship and financial guarantees.

Abdelfattah Mourou

The presidential elections of 2019 differ from those of 2014 fundamentally in that the political division has deeper, since the previous elections were marked by the absence of some structuring or catalysts actors of the political and social life of Tunisia. This time the Islamist party, also called "Muslim Democrat" Ennahdha, was presented, and he did it for the first time in his history with Abdelfattah Mourou as candidate for president. Ennahdha started with the idea of consolidating the results of the municipal elections of May 6, 2018, where the party was imposed with 28.64% of the votes over Nidaa Tounes, which obtained 22.17%.

Nabil Karoui
Nabil Karoui (AFP).

The appearance of these political factions in struggle saw the entry of a populist profile represented by Nabil Karoui, who led the polls before September 15, with great results potentially within the marginal populations of the country. Karoui provoked a line of competition for an electorate that Ennahdha believed to have controlled. A determining factor in the rise of Nabil Karoui is given by the financial and media control exercised by him over a significant part of the social spectrum of Tunisia. Karoui owns the advertising group Karoui & Karoui, which is hegemonic in the Tunisian media through the control of one of the most relevant channels of television in the country, Nessma TV.

His arrest on August 23, with the accusation of evading taxes and laundering dirty money, reinforced his anti-system profile before some of the Tunisian voters, but also raised certain doubts regarding his moral integrity in another part of the electorate. Everything pointed out that the two rounds established by the Tunisian constitutional system would be necessary since it was intuited that no candidate would achieve the absolute majority required in a first round to be proclaimed president of the country.

Kaïes Said
Kaïes Said - Reuters

The results of September 15, gave two new names that show the tiredness of a country towards its politicians. The ultra-conservative jurist and professor of Constitutional Law, Kaïes Said won 18.8% of the votes. The other place was for Nabil Karoui, who accused his situation in preventive detention leaving him in second position with 15.7% of the votes. Abdelfattah Mourou, from the Islamic party Ennahdha, was third with 12.9% of the votes; he is outside the competition to be elucidated in a second round next November 3.

Kaïes Said campaign has been built as independent and with very limited resources. He has been the only one of all the candidates who has expressed himself in literary Arabic in his usual interventions, giving the candidate an intellectual profile (in Tunisia you can hear Tunisian Arabic in most of the coast, while the Libyan variant is inland and in proximity to Libya or, further away from the coast and always inland, the Algerian variant). Kaïes Said has focused his campaign on the systematic denunciation of corruption, with proposals to combat it. Another strong point in his program was  the denounce of constitutional laws violation by the executive, connecting with the country's youth. On September 20, 2019, the Islamist party Ennahdha announced the support of Kaïes Said's candidacy to occupy the presidency of Tunisia. Said defends the decentralization state that encourages greater local democracy to reverse the state centralism. Regarding the death penalty, it has expressed itself in favor of its application In addition, he is opposed to the decriminalization of homosexuality and he wants to stop the reform of gender equality. Additionally, he proposed a revocable mandate for local elected officials and the possibility of executing a review of the country's legislative power.

AN X-RAY OF THE COUNTRY

On the other hand, also this year the Tunisians will be called to renew the Assembly of People's Representatives, elections in which the same shadow will be extended as in the presidential elections. It will be a debate more focused on people than on ideas, although it will be necessary to keep an eye on the Said campaign. If he connects with Ennahdha to the point of establishing an alliance between them, things could change the tone and type of discussions. If this is not achieved, the increasingly pronounced gap between coastal Tunisia and interior does not seem to close, or even be treated seriously. In the end, the democratizing process has failed to ensure a real and solid new economic proposal that changes the country's expectations. An example of this would be given by the increase in clandestine departures to Europe (which have only increased) reaching more comfortable groups as reported by the secretary general of the National College of Physicians, who reported that 45% of new members in 2017 left the country.

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Protest against the return of Tunisian terrorists from hotbeds of tension. Chedly Ben Ibrahim / Contributor / Getty Images

In this context, social turmoil also presents a certain tendency to increase from 5,000 mobilizations in 2015 to more than 11,000 in 2017. How has Tunisia tried to control the expansion of a Muslim rigor with a strong social discourse and criticism towards power; through large contracts. An interesting fact to have an idea of the hopes of propping up the Nidaa Tounes party in power would come from the fact that, between 2011 and 2017, the number of officials increased by almost 200,000, raising the salary mass from 10.8% to 15 % of GDP [1] .

This expense has stifled the productive investment capacity of the State and has led to a crisis in public finances. The State has the need to multiply loans, while the public debt increased from 13,500 million euros in 2010 to 24,000 million euros of 2018. The State needs around 20% of its budget to pay creditors. Moreover, inflation, unemployment, the decline in the foreign exchange reserve, and the need to demand loans from the International Monetary Fund (that has forced the Central Bank of Tunisia to give priority to controlling inflation rather than supporting economic development) , had lead to the devaluation of the dinar. This situation is boosting inflation and weakening purchasing power. The foreseen scenario to end 2019 and 2020 onwards, can be determined by an economic slowdown, with austerity in the public budget, price increase, tax increase, and restrictions on investment and consumption.

This scenario could break the steps taken in Tunisia regarding the so-called Industrial revolution 4.0 in areas such as robotics and, ultimately, the Digitalization of production processes. In fact, the number of technology plants on the African continent has increased over the last two years 40%, and Tunisia has 17 of these centers, although it is far from Egypt (34) and Morocco (25). The National Assembly approved the so-called "Start -up Act " to favor the multiplication of these business initiatives, but the obvious reality is that, leaving aside English names for technology laws, without state support and well-directed public policies, results cannot be achieved. The Association of Tunisian Engineers shows that the country's certified engineers are leaving for France, Germany, Switzerland and Canada , despite there are about 13,000 jobs in the Tunisian  technology sector that are not covered by low wages. This is the same dynamism that Europe lived with respect to the United States a few decades earlier, with the production of human capital that has been exploited outside the place where it has been formed. The winners were the giants, then Americans, in the technological sector, and were missed in Europe the opportunity to build “sovereignty” capable and efficient technology.

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Tunisia's Parliament

On the other hand, laws of progressive and secular nature undertaken by the govern party, Nidaa Tounes , have ended in failure. Last year Tunisia launched a bill on gender equality in inheritance that should underpin the Personal Statute Code. This code is a set of laws that promoted gender equality in the time of President Burguiba , by allowing access in better conditions to divorce to women, and to establish the prohibition of forced marriage and polygamy, making Tunisians women the females of the Arab world with a more advanced status . But the code left the question of inheritance unresolved, still greatly influenced by Koranic law, which states that a woman must inherit half of the part of a man even if they have the same degree of kinship [2] . The recently deceased President Essebsi wanted to close the path started by Burguiba decades ago, declining to enter the decriminalization of homosexuality, to focus on a bill on gender equality regarding inheritance [3]. But parliamentarians have preferred to save time by checking the reluctance of a part of society towards the draft of that law, and the social, economic and political challenges ahead.

[1]According to Mahmoud Ben Romdhane , La Démocratie in quête d'État , Sud Éditions , Tunisia, 2018.

[2]Sura 4 (“Women”), verse 11 , where it literally says: “God commands you about your children: leave the male a share equal to that of two females 

[3]Kmar Bendana , “La liberté, malgré tout …”, in “Le défi tunisien ”, Manière de voir , n ° 160, Paris, August-September 2018.

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