Tunisia’s prime minister and presidential candidate <span>Youssef Chahed</span> casts his vote in a polling station in Tunis [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters] People in Tunisia are casting their ballots in the country’s presidential election, with some of Tunisia’s most prominent politicians taking part in the contest.
It is the second presidential vote in the country since longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was removed during the revolution in 2011.
The election was brought forward by the death in July of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who had served as head of state since 2014.
More than seven million people are eligible to choose among 24 candidates on Sunday, making the outcome difficult to predict.
Candidates must secure 50 percent of the vote to win outright, but if none of the candidates obtains a majority on Sunday, the two with the most votes will advance to a second, decisive round.
Polls opened at 8am (07:00 GMT) and some will remain open until 6pm, while others will close two hours earlier for security reasons.
The crowded field of 26 was narrowed slightly by the last-minute withdrawal of two candidates in favour of Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi just before Saturday’s campaign blackout.
Zbidi has pledged he will change Tunisia’s Constitution to resolve the deadlock between the presidency and Parliament.
Tunisia’s president has limited powers – in charge of foreign policy, defence and national security – and governs alongside a prime minister chosen by Parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.
Prominent candidates 190913153532137 Among the key players are media mogul Nabil Karoui – behind bars due to an ongoing money-laundering probe – Abdelfattah Mourou, who heads a first-time bid on behalf of his Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
Chahed’s popularity has been tarnished by a slow economy and he has found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention in late August was politically inspired.
Last week, Karoui, 56, launched an open-ended hunger strike but, on Friday, an appeal to have the Tunisian businessman released from jail was rejected, his party and lawyers said.
Some hopefuls have tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials in a bid to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels.
One key newcomer is Kais Said, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs, who has avoided attaching his bid to a political party, going door-to-door instead to drum up support for his conservative platform.
Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July, but it is apparent that the shifting political landscape has left many voters undecided.
Shortly before polls were due to be open, Sofiene told the AFP news agency that she remained “undecided between two candidates”.
“Honest candidates don’t have much chance of winning,” she said.
Reporting from the capital Tunis, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said voters at one polling station say they hope their vote is going to make a difference.
That’s because “jobs, the economy, unemployment … and the security situation is worse than it was before 2011,” Dekker said.
“The question people are asking here: What is democracy really giving them?”
“They want change, they don’t just want another person to come and sit on the chair, as they say,” she said.
Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living by close to 30 percent since 2016.
Some 70,000 security agents have been deployed for the election, including 50,000 focused solely on polling stations, according to the interior ministry.
Exit polls are expected overnight Sunday into Monday, but preliminary results are not expected from the electoral commission until Tuesday.
The date of the second round and final round has not been announced, but it must happen by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, slated for October 6.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies
LINK ORIGINAL: Aljazeera