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Tunisia presidential race hots up
الأربعاء, 17 ديسمبر 2014 22:56

[AFP/Fethi Belaid] Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki waves the national flag during a campaign stop on December 14, 2014 in Tunis.As Tunisia's Sunday (December 21st) presidential runoff approaches, the campaigns of President Moncef Marzouki and Nidaa Tounes leader Béji Caid Essebsi are hotting up.

Campaigning is set to continue until December 19th in

Campaigning is set to continue until December 19th in Tunisia, and December 17th outside the country.

The two candidates have conducted field tours to achieve direct communication with voters.

Tunisia, and December 17th outside the country.

The two candidates have conducted field tours to achieve direct communication with voters.

Marzouki's tours have focused on north-western areas, which voted for his opponent in the first round. He promised to protect freedoms, prevent the return of despotism, realise a political balance, stimulate the economy, develop disadvantaged areas and combat terrorism.

He also warned of the return of hegemony.

Meanwhile, Caid Essebsi's campaign has largely focused on the southern cities where his opponent prevailed in the first round, meeting in particular with youth.

His election platform featured several points: safeguarding the prestige of the state, realising security, stimulating investments, developing marginalised areas, strengthening social unity, defending women's rights, cutting youth unemployment and activating the anti-terrorism law.

Southern Tunisia is seen as the centre of gravity of Marzouki's strength, while the north, north-west and coastal cities are seen as the most important centres for his opponent, based on the first round results.

The campaign has so far been characterised by mutual political accusations and criticisms between the two candidates, although the election commission demanded that they avoid tense speech.

Marzouki accused Caid Essebsi of being the former regime's candidate, seeking exclusive political control over the state and circumventing the values of revolution. Meanwhile, Nidaa Tounes supporters accuse Marzouki of mobilising radical salafists in his campaign.

"It seems that the two candidates are unaware of the danger of their speech and of what it can lead to in terms of tensions and divisions in the country," commented Ayoub Mokrani, a 23-year-old pharmacy student.

"We were hoping to see fair and honest competition between the two sides and a refined campaign, but we only found an immoral conflict for the presidential seat," the student added.

Mohamed Aziz Ben Amara, a mechanic, said that the campaign started feverishly given the weight of the two contenders. He expressed his hope that the atmosphere would be less tense in the coming days so Tunisians could go to the election in peace.

In this regard, the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE), the mediating quartet, and civil society organisations that monitor elections have demanded the two candidates respect the principles of campaigning.

The ISIE urged the two sides to stop provocative statements, calm things down and preserve national unity.

The run-off is expected to be very close between the two candidates, given that the difference between them in the first round didn't exceed 6%.

Many parties, including the Free Patriotic Union (UPL), which finished 3rd in the legislative election with 16 seats and has significant mobilisation power, have declared their support for Caid Essebsi.

Afek Tounes (eight seats), the Party of Initiative (three seats), the Destourian Movement and many other presidential candidates have already endorsed the Nidaa Tounes leader in the run-off.

Meanwhile, Marzouki has major support among some 900,000 Ennahda followers. This is in addition to support from his own party, the Congress for the Republic (four seats), and other small parties.

 

By Monia Ghanmi in Tunis for Magharebia