Tunisia prepares for polls after death of president

Parliament Speaker Mohamed Ennaceur, 3rd from the left, was sworn as an interim president as per the Tunisian constitution. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 July 2019

Tunisia prepares for polls after death of president

  • The government declared a state of mourning which will last for 7 days
  • Electoral commission says presidential polls will “probably” be held on September 15

TUNIS: Tunisia has less than two months to organize snap elections following the death of president Beji Caid Essebsi, amid uncertainty over who could step forward to run the North African country.

Essebsi, the country’s first head of state elected in nationwide polls, died Thursday at the age of 92, triggering fears of political unrest in a country seen as a rare success story following the Arab Spring uprisings.

Newspapers on Friday paid tribute to “the father of consensus,” while festivals were canceled and the government declared seven days of mourning.

“Our pain is great, our sorrow is immense,” read an editorial in French language daily Le Temps.

Essebsi’s body was set to be taken from the military hospital of Tunis on Friday to the presidential palace in nearby Carthage for a private burial.

Within hours of Essebsi’s death, parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president, who under the constitution has 90 days to organize a presidential election.

The electoral commission said the poll would “probably” be held on September 15, two months earlier than planned.

Foreign governments including that of former colonial power France have hailed Essebsi’s role in Tunisia’s democratic transition, with nearby Algeria and Mauritania declaring three days of mourning.

The main funeral ceremony is to take place on Saturday in the presence of several foreign heads of state, according to Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia is the only country affected by the uprisings to have pushed through democratic reforms — despite political unrest, a sluggish economy and extremist attacks.

Extremists have staged repeated deadly attacks since the overthrow of Ben Ali, raising fears for the country’s fragile democracy and throttling its tourism industry.

Following Ben Ali’s departure, Essebsi founded the secularist Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunis) party, which he led to victory at the polls in 2014.

The party formed a coalition with the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, which lasted four years before the two parties split.

But Nidaa Tounes has struggled to overcome bitter internal divisions between premier Chahed and the president’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, leading to the premier being sidelined from Nidaa Tounes and forming his own rival party, Tahia Tounes.

The president’s death also comes amid a debate over who will be able to run in the next presidential elections.

Essebsi neither rejected nor enacted an amended electoral code passed by parliament in June that would bar the way for several strong candidates including media magnate Nabil Karoui.

Karoui, who has formed a political party, was charged with money laundering this month after he stated his intention to stand.

The presidential election, along with a parliamentary vote that had been set for October, also comes despite the fact that eight years after the Arab Spring, Tunisia has yet to set up a constitutional court.

Despite the uncertainty, Chahed hailed a “peaceful transfer of power,” while interim leader Ennaceur vowed that “the state will continue to function.”

“The people are pleased to know that their country is a democratic state, not an emirate,” former parliament speaker Adel Bsili wrote on Twitter.

An editorial in French-language daily La Presse agreed.

“Tunisians... have passed the test to prove to the entire world that Tunisia is a democratic country.”


Former finance minister Mohammad Safadi put forward to be next Lebanese PM

Updated 15 November 2019

Former finance minister Mohammad Safadi put forward to be next Lebanese PM

BEIRUT: Three major Lebanese parties have agreed on nominating Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, to become prime minister of a new government, the Lebanese broadcasters LBCI and MTV reported on Thursday.
The agreement was reached in a meeting on Thursday between outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician, and senior representatives of the Shiite groups Amal and Hezbollah.
There was no official comment from the parties or Safadi. The broadcasters did not identify their sources.
Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29 in the face of an unprecedented wave of protests against ruling politicians who are blamed for rampant state corruption and steering Lebanon into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Hariri remains caretaker prime minister for now.
Since quitting, Hariri, who is aligned with the West and Gulf Arab states, has been holding closed-door meetings with parties including the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which had wanted him to be prime minister again.
Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim according to the country’s sectarian power-sharing system.
Mustaqbal Web, a Hariri-owned news website, said a meeting between Hariri, Ali Hassan Khalil of the Amal Movement and Hussein Al-Khalil of Hezbollah had discussed recommending Safadi for the post.
MTV said the government would be a mixture of politicians and technocrats. Mustaqbal Web said the type of government was not discussed, and neither was the question of whether Hariri’s Future Movement would be part of the Cabinet.
LBCI said the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party allied to Hezbollah, had also agreed to Safadi’s nomination.
They did not identify their sources.
Safadi is a prominent businessman and member of parliament from the northern city of Tripoli. He served previously as finance minister from 2011-2014 under prime minister Najib Mikati.
Prior to that, he served as minister of economy and trade in the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who was backed by the West. He held that post again in the Hariri-led Cabinet that took office in 2009.
Hariri had said he would only return as prime minister of a Cabinet of specialist ministers which he believed would be best placed to win international aid and steer Lebanon out of its economic crisis, sources close to Hariri have said.