TUNIS: Tunisian Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi submitted his candidacy for a presidential election on Sept. 15 as an independent on Wednesday and said he would resign from government.
Zbidi, 69, who has the support of secular parties including Nidaa Tounes and Afek Tounes, is likely to emerge as one of the frontrunners in the election, which was called early after the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi last month.
Zbidi, a technocrat and medical doctor by training, is considered by many to be above the party politics and infighting that has held back badly-needed economic reforms in Tunisia in recent years.
He looks set as the most serious rival to Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who will run as a candidate for the liberal Tahya Tounes Party.
After Ben Ali’s overthrow in 2011, Zbidi was appointed defense minister until he quit in March 2013 while serving in a Cabinet led by Ennahda. In 2017, Chahed re-appointed Zbidi as defense minister.
Tunisia’s president controls foreign and defense policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by Parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.
Tunisia’s biggest political party Ennahda Movement nominated its vice President Abdel Fattah Mourou as a candidate on Wednesday. He is the first presidential nominee from the moderate party since Tunisia transitioned to democracy after the 2011 uprising.
“The party’s advisory council has voted by a majority of 98 votes in favor of Abdel Fattah Mourou’s candidacy at the presidential election,” Ennahda said in a statement.
Mourou, 71, was appointed interim parliamentary speaker following the death of President Essebsi.
The Ennahda politician had previously served as the deputy speaker, and changed roles after the then parliamentary head Mohamed Ennaceur stepped up as interim president.
The party’s announcement marks “the first time in its history that the movement puts forward a candidate for the presidential elections,” spokesman Imed Khmiri said.
Ennahda won the first polls after the 2011 uprising which ousted President Zine El-Abidine, and is currently the largest party in Parliament.
Mourou is known as a moderate and is one of the founding members of Ennahda, which was launched in 1981.
Presidential hopefuls have until Aug. 9 to register, ahead of the election on Sept. 15.
So far 27 people have submitted their candidacy to the electoral commission, including media magnate Nabil Karoui.
He was charged with money laundering in July, after stating his intention to stand in the polls.
Karoui is a fierce rival of Prime Minister Chahed, who is standing in the presidential vote with his Tahia Tounes party.
They have been joined in the race by Abir Moussi, who heads a group formed from the remnants of Ben Ali’s ruling party.