Tunisia sees 26 candidates for presidential poll on Sunday

Tunisia sees 26 candidates for presidential poll on Sunday
The vote is taking place because the country’s first democratically elected leader died in office in July. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

Tunisia sees 26 candidates for presidential poll on Sunday

Tunisia sees 26 candidates for presidential poll on Sunday
  • Accusations of smear campaigns and corruption are flying as Tunisia’s 7 million registered voters get ready to declare their choices

TUNIS: Tunisia is holding a cacophonous presidential election this weekend, with voters choosing among 26 candidates for a new leader who can secure the North African nation’s young democracy and tackle unemployment, corruption and the economic despair in its provinces.

Sunday’s first-round vote is only the second democratic presidential election that Tunisia has seen since its “jasmine revolution” brought down Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and triggered the Arab Spring uprisings across the region. While the Arab Spring led to deadly civil wars that still haunt countries such as Syria and Libya, it brought democracy to Tunisia.

The vote is taking place because the country’s first democratically elected leader died in office in July.

Accusations of smear campaigns and corruption are flying as Tunisia’s 7 million registered voters get ready to declare their choices. With so many candidates vying for the five-year term there’s no clear front-runner, although Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, jailed media magnate Nabil Karoui and Abdelfattah Mourou of the moderate Ennahda are getting particular attention.

“The young Tunisian democracy has, like a reed, folded without ever breaking,” said analyst Ahmed Chérif.

Still, the system remains fragile. In addition to Tunisia’s deep economic woes, security is a major concern amid extremist tensions along Tunisia’s borders with Algeria and Libya. A string of deadly attacks in 2015 notably hurt the country’s tourism sector, crucial to this small Mediterranean nation that lacks its neighbors’ oil wealth.

Given the plethora of presidential hopefuls, uncertainty dominates the election — which was thrown further into disarray by last month’s arrest of Karoui, considered a top contender.

He is charged with money laundering and tax evasion, but allowed to stay in the race as long as he hasn’t been convicted. He denies wrongdoing and accuses the prime minister of a smear campaign. On Thursday, he announced a hunger strike, demanding to be released for the election.

Karoui promises to fight poverty and launched a charity in 2016 in honor of his son, who was killed in a car accident, which collects donations for the poor through his Nessma TV channel. Critics accuse Karoui of exploiting the poor to earn their votes.

The campaign has included Tunisia’s first televised presidential debates, which have brought attention to lesser-known candidates. Still, only a minority have “profiles and skills that meet the criteria required,” said political scientist Salah Horchani.

Among them is Chahed, the 44-year-old outgoing prime minister who boasts of “saving the country from bankruptcy” during his three years as head of government, with economic indicators showing signs of improvement thanks to what he calls his “courageous reforms.”

His main competitor is none other than his own defense minister, Abdelkrim Zbidi, who calls himself independent but is supported by several centrist parties, including that of late President Beji Caid Essebsi.

The defense minister promises to “improve the morals of public life,” and accuses the prime minister of exploiting his office for electoral gains.

These two could be surprised, however, by Islamist candidate Mourou, vice president of the Ennahdha party, currently the largest single force in Tunisia’s Parliament.

Mourou, 71, said recently that he thought his age and health meant he could “no longer bring anything to Tunisia.” But he was convinced to run for president by Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi, who’s hoping Mourou can unify the party’s broad base. The party ran the government from 2011-2014 but its leadership led to an acute political crisis and rising fundamentalism.

Two women candidates say it’s time for a female president in a country that’s long had greater women’s rights than neighboring countries. Candidate Abir Moussi has seen a rise in support after her tough criticism of Tunisia’s Islamists.

Among the underdogs is former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, appointed to the post thanks to a special agreement among four groups that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for saving Tunisia’s democracy amid its political crisis.

Results of the first round are expected Monday or Tuesday. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, the election goes to a second round that must be held no later than Nov. 3. The date of the runoff will be announced once the final first-round results are declared.

The new president’s success will depend on having support in Parliament — which is having its own election on Oct. 6.


UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
Updated 17 min 23 sec ago

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
  • The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday
  • The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters

TRIPOLI: The advance team of a UN observer mission has arrived in Libya, which after a decade of conflict and chaos plans to hold elections in December, informed sources said Wednesday.
The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, they said, to monitor a cease-fire between the country’s two rival armed factions.
The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters who have been deployed in the oil-rich North African country and have so far shown no sign of leaving.
Libya was thrown into years of violent turmoil after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and led to the killing of long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The country has been split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, based in the capital and backed by Turkey, and an administration in the east supported by strongman Kalifa Haftar, with the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The two sides reached a cease-fire in October, and UN-led talks since resulted in a new temporary administration elected in February, led by interim prime minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
A diplomatic source in Tunis said the advance team, made up from the UN mission in Libya and experts from UN headquarters in New York, arrived Tuesday via the neighboring country’s capital Tunis.
On its five-week mission it is to travel to Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast halfway between the eastern and western power centers, as well as to Misrata in the west and Benghazi in the east.
A diplomatic source in New York said the team is due to submit a report to the UN Security Council on March 19 on the cease-fire and the departure of foreign troops.
According to the UN, some 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters were still in Libya in early December. A January 23 deadline for their withdrawal passed without any signs of them pulling out.
The Security Council in early February ordered UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to deploy the vanguard of observers in Libya, following the October 23 cease-fire deal.
In a report late last year, Guterres himself had advocated an unarmed observer group be made up of civilians and retired military personnel from African Union, European Union and Arab League member states.


Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow
Updated 32 min ago

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

ANKARA: Turkey and Egypt could negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement in the eastern Mediterranean if their ties, which have been strained, allow for such a move, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
Last month, Egypt announced the start of a bid round for oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation in 24 blocks including some in the Mediterranean.
Speaking at a news conference with his Georgian counterpart in Ankara, Cavusoglu said Egypt’s exploration bids had respected Turkey’s continental shelf and that Ankara viewed this positively. 


UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 50 min 4 sec ago

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
  • The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463

DUBAI: The UAE confirmed 2,692 new coronavirus cases and 16 deaths on Wednesday as the Emirates continues to expand its testing of citizens and residents for the early detection of the highly contagious disease.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463, with a total of 1,269 fatalities related to coronavirus.

Health officials have conducted 218,351 additional COVID-19 tests overnight, state news agency WAM said, with the total number of tests now over 31 million.

The UAE leads the world in terms of conducting coronavirus tests relative to the size of population, with infection rates compared to the total tests being among the lowest in the region and the entire world, WAM earlier said.

It is also tops the global tally on COVID-19 vaccinations after implementing a vaccination campaign to for residents and citizens to achieve mass immunity. More than six million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been provided and 3,614,070 people have been vaccinated to date, which accounts for 46.61 percent of the target population.


Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges

Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges
Updated 4 min 22 sec ago

Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges

Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges

DUBAI: Egypt’s foreign minister called for the unified Arab front to face current issues and challenges during a ministerial meeting of the Arab League.
Sameh Shoukry called for the halt of foreign interference in Libya and expressed support for a political solution.
He also said “we fully support Saudi Arabia’s efforts in defending themselves from the Houthi militia.”
As for Syria, the Egyptian top envoy called for unity in the face of Turkish “occupation.”
Shoukry also said Arab ministers support Sudan’s and Egypt’s stances on the Grand Renaissance Dam issue.
“We seek an agreement that will preserve our rights without violating those of Ethiopia,” he said.


Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack
Updated 03 March 2021

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Wednesday he still expected to make his historic visit to Iraq in two days time, after a rocket attack on a military base hosting US-led coalition troops.
"The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much," the 84-year-old Francis said in his weekly Wednesday address.
The Argentine pontiff asked for prayers for the trip, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, through which he hopes to encourage the dwindling Christian community to remain in their ancient homeland while broadening his outreach to Islam.
"I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers so that it may take place in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits," the pope said.
He added: "The Iraqi people are waiting for us, they were waiting for Saint John Paul II, who was forbidden to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be successful."
At least 10 rockets slammed into a military base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops earlier on Wednesday, security sources said, leaving one civilian contractor dead.
The attack on the sprawling Ain al-Assad base in Iraq's western desert comes after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Francis said the pope would be travelling by armoured vehicle and that he would not be meeting crowds.
"This is a particular situation, that's why the transports will all be in a closed vehicle, meaning it will be complicated to see the pope on the streets," spokesman Matteo Brunei said.
"There will be a number of meetings but none will be more than a few hundred people," he said.