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2 candidates claim first round wins in Tunisia elections

Turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls

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Tunisia elections: 2 candidates claim wins

Two anti-establishment candidates in Tunisia’s election claimed Sunday to have won through to a runoff, hours after polling closed in the country’s second free presidential poll since the 2011 Arab Spring.

In a sign of voter apathy, especially among the young, turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls. Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs who ran as an independent, claimed to be in pole position.

He finished “first in the first round,” he said, citing exit polls ahead of preliminary results expected to be announced on Tuesday. There was also an upbeat atmosphere at the party headquarters of jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, behind bars due to a money laundering probe, as hundreds of supporters celebrated after he also claimed to have reached the second round.

Other prominent candidates in the first round included Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. Ennahdha insisted it would wait for the official results. 

“Only the elections board gives the results,” said Ennahdha MP and Mourou’s campaign director, Samir Dilou. “I do not doubt the work of the polling institutes, (but) it is not their role to impose a certain truth on the public,” he told reporters.

Chahed’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living. The prime minister has also found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August was politically inspired.

Tunisia Elections: citizens cast their votes
Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Detained but undeterred; Nabil Karoui’s campaign continues in Tunisia

‘Where are the young?’

“Young people of Tunisia, you still have an hour to vote!” ISIE head Nabil Baffoun had urged before the close of Sunday’s vote. “We must leave our homes and vote – it’s a right that we gained from the 2011 revolution which cost lives,” Baffoun added, visibly disappointed by the turnout.

However, he later said that the turnout of 45 percent was “an acceptable level”. At polling stations visited by journalists, there was a high proportion of older voters, but few young people. The election followed an intense campaign characterised more by personality clashes than political differences. 

It had been brought forward by the death of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July and whose widow also passed away on Sunday morning. Essebsi had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July. Some of the 24 hopefuls who contested the polls tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels. Another independent candidate was Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat running for the first time, although with backing from Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.

The long list of active runners was trimmed by the last-minute withdrawal of two candidates in favour of Zbidi, although their names remained on the ballot paper. But Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of campaigning, has been the top story of the election. Studies suggested his arrest boosted his popularity.

A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest. But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.

On Friday, an appeal for the Tunisian mogul’s release from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said. The polarisation risks derailing the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city
Tunisian voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy

‘Divisive’ candidates

Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarising candidate” such as Karoui. 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 a third since 2016.

Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector. Around 70,000 security forces were mobilised for the polls. The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.

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Sudanese Muslim cleric slams new women’s football league

Cleric Abdel Hay Youssef claims Islam prohibits women from playing football

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Sudanese Muslim cleric slams new women's football league
A picture taken on October 11, 2019 shows Sudanese hardline cleric Abdel Hay Youssef after Friday prayers at a mosque in Gabra neighborhood in the south of the capital Khartoum. - Crowds of Sudanese rallied after Friday prayers in support of the Islamist cleric who has slammed the new female sports minister Wala Essam for holding the country's first ever women's football league. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Crowds rallied after Friday prayers in support of a hardline Islamist cleric who has slammed Sudan’s new female sports minister for backing the country’s first-ever women’s football league.

Sudan’s women’s football league held its first match on September 30 in the presence of the Minister of Sports Wala Essam and several foreign diplomats.

“We will give special attention to women’s sport and women’s football,”  Essam said at that time.

Cleric Abdel Hay Youssef, known for his fiery speeches and for backing ousted Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir, claims Islam prohibits women from playing football and has harshly criticised Essam for supporting the game.

Youssef supporters rallied outside a mosque in south Khartoum where the cleric preaches, chanting slogans of support for him, a correspondent said.

“We are with you Abdel Hay Youssef,” chanted the crowds, a correspondent said.

Some even called the cleric “Amir al-Muminin” (Arabic for “Commander of the Faithful)”.

According to media reports, Youssef had links with Al-Qaeda and financed and trained fighters of the Islamic State group in Libya. He has denied these accusations.

Women’s football has faced an uphill fight in Sudan since the country adopted Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before Bashir had seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.

Bashir was ousted by the army in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

Islamist parties stayed on the sidelines during the protests while women played a central role.

A new joint civilian-military ruling body, called the sovereign council, is governing the country for a transition period of 39 months.

The launch of a women’s football league came amid expectations that the transition period will see liberal policies implemented in Sudan, including measures to promote freedom of speech, women’s rights, sport and arts.

Last year, Saudi Arabia allowed women to attend a football match for the first time ever in the conservative Muslim-ruled kingdom.

And on Thursday, women attended a football match for the first time in decades in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Eight years on from the Arab Spring Tunisia looks back

Ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, here is a recap of key developments in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution.

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Ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, here is a recap of key developments in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution.

President flees 

Demonstrations erupt in central Tunisia in December 2010 after the self-immolation of a fruit seller protesting police harassment and unemployment.

After weeks of unrest in which 338 people are killed, dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees in January 2011, ending 23 years in power. 

He is the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring, which spreads through the region like wildfire.

Read Also: Tunisia prepares for Arab League Summit with high hopes

 Victory for Islamists 

In October 2011, Tunisia’s first free election sees Islamist group Ennahda win 89 of 217 seats in a new constituent assembly. 

The assembly elects former opposition leader Moncef Marzouki as president in December. Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda’s number two, is charged with forming a government.

Attacks

In April 2012, police clash with thousands of jobless protesters in the southwestern mining belt.

More violent demonstrations follow in June and August, and jihadists stage attacks.

In September, hundreds of demonstrators attack the US embassy, in protest at an online US-made film that mocked Islam.

A series of strikes and demonstrations affect industry, public services, transport and business, with unrest mostly in the economically marginalised interior.

Opposition leaders killed 

In February 2013, prominent leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated in Tunis, four month later In July, fellow leftist Mohamed Brahmi is also shot dead.

Islamic State (IS) group claim both killings.

Democratic transition 

In January 2014, a new constitution is adopted, a year later than planned. A government of technocrats is formed and Islamists withdraw from power. In October, the secular Nidaa Tounes party led by Beji Caid Essebsi comes top in parliamentary polls and forms a coalition with Ennahda. Two months later, Essebsi wins Tunisia’s first free presidential election.

String of attacks 

In 2015, Tunisia suffers three attacks claimed by IS militants.

The attacks left 72 dead, mostly foreign tourists and security personnel, including at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and a coastal resort.

In 2016, jihadists attack security installations in a town on the Libyan border, killing 13 members of the security services and seven civilians.

Fresh protests 

In January 2016, a new wave of protests erupted after the death of a young unemployed man in a demonstration.

In May, the International Monetary Fund green lights a new four-year loan of $2.9 billion.

In January 2018, protests erupt after an austerity budget takes effect.

Political instability 

Essebsi in September announces the end of his party’s alliance with Ennahda, which had been part of a unity government since 2016. In July 2019, the ailing Essebsi dies aged 92, months before the end of his term.

In August a newcomer to the political arena who is running for president in elections set for the following month, Nabil Karoui, is arrested on charges of money laundering.

He nonetheless comes second in the first round of the vote in September, with nearly 16 percent behind independent law professor Kais Saied who has 18 percent.

In legislative elections on October 6, Ennahda takes the most seats — 52 out of 217 — but far short of the 109 needed to govern.

In a further twist, Karoui is released from jail on October 9, days ahead of the presidential runoff vote.

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Sudan appoints first female as head of judiciary

Her appointment comes weeks after Asma Mohamed Abdalla was appointed as the country’s first-ever female foreign minister

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Sudan appoints first female as head of judiciary

Sudan’s ruling body on Thursday appointed two top judicial officials, including the country’s first-ever female chief of the judiciary, state media reported.

Veteran Supreme Court judge Neemat Abdullah Kheir was appointed as chief of the judiciary by the 11-member ruling sovereign council, the official SUNA news agency reported.

The sovereign council also appointed Taj Al-Sir Ali as the country’s new prosecutor general.

Kheir’s appointment is seen to be in line with the transitional authorities’ aim to achieve gender balance given that Sudanese women were at the forefront of the uprising that led to the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April.

Her appointment comes weeks after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok appointed Asma Mohamed Abdalla, a seasoned diplomat, as the country’s first-ever female foreign minister.

On Thursday, the sovereign council also extended by three months the nationwide state of emergency, which had been imposed by Bashir on February 22.

Bashir had imposed the emergency law as a last-ditch effort to crush the protest movement that had swelled against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

The extended state of emergency comes into effect on Friday.

Protests erupted against Bashir’s rule in December after his then government tripled the price of bread.

The protests swiftly escalated into a nationwide movement against his rule that finally saw the army ousting him on April 11.

The protests then continued against a military council of generals that seized power after ousting him.

Later in August, Sudan swore in the joint civilian-military sovereign council, marking the first time that the country was not under full military rule since Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup.

The sovereign council also includes two women members, including a member of Sudan’s Christian minority.

The council is tasked with overseeing the country’s overall transition to a civilian rule, the key demand of the protest movement.

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