Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—Campaigning began on Saturday for Tunisia’s second set of parliamentary elections following the ouster of longtime dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
The election, scheduled for October 26, will see an electorate of 5.3 million—including around 311,000 registered to vote abroad—offered the choice of candidates competing for 217 seats in the Tunisian National Assembly.
The latest opinion polls show Islamists Ennahda, along with secular rivals from the Nidaa Tounes (Tunisian Call) movement, as the main frontrunners in the race so far.
The coming campaign is likely to be dominated by economic concerns and public fears of the rise of Islamist parties to power.
Tunisia’s economy has been left battered since the start of the Arab Spring, with receipts from its once-lucrative tourism industry drying up, double-digit inflation driving up prices, and high unemployment particularly affecting the young, with official figures showing a 31.4 percent unemployment rate among graduates.
The country has also seen political unease since Ben Ali’s ouster. The leader of Nidaa Tounes, veteran politician Beji Caid El-Sebsi, took over as interim prime minister shortly after Ben Ali’s left power in January 2011. Later that year, he handed over power to Ennahda after parliamentary elections gave them a 37 percent majority in the first post-Ben Ali parliament.
But this was followed by a political crisis which saw two secular lawmakers assassinated and a wave of terrorist attacks across the country. This led Ennahda to voluntarily give up power in January to a technocratic government, paving the way for a vote on a new constitution—a document widely hailed throughout the region and beyond—and fresh parliamentary elections this month.
Speaking to Tunisian monthly publication Leaders, the head of the Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, Rachid Ghannouchi, said his party hoped “to achieve the same winning margin that we achieved in the last elections, or greater.”
He also told an Algerian television channel that Ennahda saw that “political consensus” would be “a necessity in the coming period,” adding that the country still needed a “national coalition in power with a wide base of support from the biggest three or four political parties.”
On whether Ennahda would be willing to form a coalition with secular rivals Nidaa Tounes, Ghannouchi told the channel: “We will join forces with any party [brought to this position] via the ballot box and which has expressed its readiness to join forces with us.”
But Nidaa Tounes leader Sebsi said recently his party would not be joining any coalition with Ennahda until the Islamist group was clearer about its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a press statement on Friday, Sebsi said: “In order for us to join forces with Ennahda, we have to take the same political direction. But the current reality is not like this. [As such] we have asked [Ennahda] to publicly clarify its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
A number of other opposition parties have also expressed their mistrust of Ennahda, accusing it of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international umbrella organization, and seeking, in the long run, to establish an Islamic caliphate in Tunisia.
Following the election of parliament, the country is also due to hold presidential elections on November 23. A total of 27 candidates have declared their intentions to run in the race so far.