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Tunisia opens camapaigns for presidential election

Seven million Tunisians are expected to head to the ballot box in the September 15 poll

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Tunisia opens camapaigns for presidential election
A supporter of the Tunisian businessperson and media mogul, Nabil Karoui, who was arrested last week on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, sticks an electoral campaign poster to a wall on the first day of the presidential electoral campaigning. Khaled Nasraoui/AFP

Campaigns for Tunisia’s presidential elections opened Monday with 26 candidates vying to replace late leader Beji Caid Essebsi in a vote seen as vital to defending democratic gains in the cradle of the Arab Spring.

Seven million Tunisians are expected to head to the ballot box in the September 15 poll, which was brought forward from November following Essebsi’s death in July.

He had been elected in the wake of the 2011 uprising that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set off revolts in many Arab countries that forced other veteran leaders out.

Tunisia has been praised as a rare case of democratic transition after the Arab Spring, and Essebsi in 2014 became the country’s first democratically elected President. 

But the country has struggled with repeated jihadist attacks, along with inflation and unemployment that have hit the popularity of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

The election comes as Tunisia has been wracked by internal conflict, including struggles between Chahed and the late President’s son that led the premier to quit the ruling Nidaa Tounes party and form Tahia Tounes.

Launched at the start of the year, Tahia Tounes has become the second largest party in parliament behind the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.

Aged 43, Chahed is Tunisia’s youngest Prime Minister and has delegated his powers to the public services minister to devote himself to the election campaign.

He faces competition from a slew of candidates, including interim parliamentary speaker, Abdelfattah Mourou, of Ennahdha, as well as former defence minister Abdelkrim Zbidi.

Another powerful opponent could be media magnate Nabil Karoui, who despite his arrest on August 23 for alleged money laundering is still eligible to run according to Tunisian law.

‘Everything is possible’

“It is the first time that Tunisians have no idea who will become their President,” according to the Tunis-based Joussour think tank.

Joussour noted there were only two front-runners in the last election in 2014 — Essebsi and former President Moncef Marzouki. 

“Now, everything is possible,” it said.

Chahed launched his overseas campaign Saturday in the French city of Lyon, casting himself as a human rights defender. Some 1.2 million Tunisians live overseas, mainly in Europe.

“We hope to speak with Tunisians to explain to them… our vision for a stronger Tunisia, a more modern and developed Tunisia, and a Tunisia that truly believes in the universal values of human rights,” he told reporters ahead of a campaign meeting.

He also denied accusations from Karoui backers that he had masterminded the arrest of the controversial media magnate.

“I had nothing to do with this,” he said, stressing that Karoui’s arrest was a legal issue.

Karoui, who recently set up a political party, Heart of Tunisia, has said he was targeted by “attempts to undermine his growing popularity”.

In recent years, Karoui used his popular Nessma TV — which is now facing a ban to cover the election — to launch high-profile charity campaigns, handing out food and clothing in front of the cameras.

Chahed’s government tried to eliminate Karoui from the race, by voting earlier this year on an amended electoral code which was passed by parliament in June but not ratified by Essebsi before his death.

Tunisia’s electoral commission, which approved Saturday the final list of 26 presidential hopefuls, has banned the publication of surveys, making it difficult for pundits to evaluate each candidate’s strength.

‘Power cannot be shared’ –

Zbidi told reporters in an interview that if he were elected he was determined to “restart the social ladder” and improve public services so they become “accessible” for all Tunisians.

The 69-year-old former defence minister, who presents himself as an independent technocrat, said he would also like to revise the constitution in order to give the head of state more powers.

“Power cannot be shared,” he said, adding, however, that it would be up to the Tunisian people to choose, through a referendum, if they want a “parliamentary regime or a presidential one”.

Another prominent presidential hopeful is Mourou, a 71-year-old lawyer and the first candidate ever announced by Ennahdha.

Mourou is known as a moderate and is one of the founding members of the Islamist-inspired party.

Political analyst Hamza Meddeb said he believed Mourou would make it to the second round of voting expected to be held the first week of November.

“The big unknown is who will be his rival,” Karoui, Chahed or Zbidi, he said.

The final list of candidates revealed on Saturday includes only two women — former tourism minister, Salma Elloumi and Abir Moussi, who heads a group formed from the remnants of Ben Ali’s ruling party.

Campaigning ends on September 13.

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South Sudan Appoints Awut Deng Acuil as First Woman to Chair University Governing Council

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South Sudan has appointed Awut Deng Acuil to chair the governing council of the University of Bahr El-Ghazal.

Acuil, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation from August 2019 until March 2020 and the current Minister of General Education and Instructions, became the first woman to be appointed to chair the governing body of a university.

Her appointment was announced in a presidential decree read on the national broadcaster, the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation.

The university was established in 1991, when South Sudan was still part of Sudan. The country gained its independence in 2011

Acuil was also the first woman to serve as South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

She relinquished the post following the appointment of a unity government in February to end the conflict between rival groups in South Sudan.

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Italy Secretly Repatriating Undocumented Tunisians – Official

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Italy has continued the repatriation of undocumented Tunisians by secret flights that land at Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport, 100 kms south of Tunis, a security source in the Tunisian capital said on Saturday.

The Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport received flights on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with between 20 and 40 young Tunisians expelled by the Italian authorities, the source said.

Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said recently that Italy has recorded an increase in the flow of migrants since the beginning of the year, reaching 32,000 people of whom 12,000, representing 38.7 percent, were of Tunisian nationality.

The minister had discussed with Tunisian President Kais Saeid the issue of illegal migration and forced repatriation of illegal migrants arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean.

On 10 August, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, warned that “Tunisians arriving in Italy by boat will be repatriated at the rate of 80 weekly flights”.

Many civil society organisations in Tunisia have demanded the publication of the results of the negotiations between the Tunisian authorities and their Italian counterparts on the repatriation of Tunisians and the revision of the bilateral agreements on clandestine migration signed by the two governments.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights, the Euro-Mediterranean Commission and the European Union have called for the humane treatment of migrants by providing them with protection instead of forced repatriation.

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Algerian Lawmakers Approve Death Penalty For Child Abductors

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Algeria’s National People’s Assembly (First Chamber of Parliament) has approved a new bill that provides the death penalty for child abductors.

The proposed new law provides harsher punishments for offenders convicted of crimes of abduction involving children.

The death penalty has not been formally abolished in Algeria but it has also not been implemented since 1993, and that was in a terrorism case.

The new bill has to go through a second reading in the Council of the Nation before it becomes law.

The draft law comes after Algeria witnessed an increase in incidents of kidnapping and killing of children and female minors.

Last weekend, Minister of Justice Belkacem Zaghmati hinted that discussions were underway regarding a draft law to combat crimes of child abduction.

Zaghmati said: “We can resume the death penalty [as stipulated by law]. Do not be surprised if this punishment is applied in the future if necessary,” adding that there is a discussion at the national and international levels between supporters and abolishers.

“Algeria is a sovereign state and it is free to apply the death penalty. There is no local or global objection to that,” in reference to pressure exerted by international human rights organisations to abolish capital punishment.

“Algeria has not signed or ratified any international agreement that prohibits the use of the death penalty. If necessary, the death penalty will be resumed,” the minister continued.

Algeria suspended the death penalty in 1993 due to local and international accusations that the authorities were using executions to take revenge on opponents.

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