Tunisians began voting on Sunday in a presidential runoff to choose a conservative academic or a media magnate who was freed from jail a few days ago, marking a new era in the country’s post-revolution political landscape.
Presidential candidate Nabil Karoui was only freed on Wednesday, after having spent more than a month in jails on suspicion of money-laundering and tax evasion.
This historic election which is Tunisia’s second free presidential poll since the 2011 revolution, comes after the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi last July 25.
On Friday night, media tycoon Nabil Karoui and law professor Kais Saied went head-to-head in a rare television debate, for a last bid to convince Tunisian voters.
Karoui, a 56-year-old businessman, appeared relaxed, if at times hesitant. Speaking in Tunisian dialect, he reviewed his key themes of economic liberalisation and fighting poverty.
Serious and also relaxed, 61-year-old independent candidate Saied called for the decentralisation of power and criticised the country’s partisan system, in classical Arabic.
The runoff election result is still uncertain, with a complete ban on opinion polls, but Karoui is bolstered with his new party, Heart of Tunisia (Qalb Tounes), winning the second place in legislative elections the previous week.
Saied came first in the first round in the presidential election, held on September 15, with 18.4 % of votes, while Karoui followed with 15.6 %. Turnout for that round was very poor with 45 %, and none of the candidates gained the absolute majority needed to win the race.
According to the 2014 Constitution of Tunisia, the president is the head of state and a symbol of its unity. The implementation of executive power in the country is divided between the president and the government.
The president is elected on the basis of universal direct voting by secret ballot for a term of five years and cannot hold the office for more than two consecutive terms.
The election is announced through a presidential decree, which should be issued no later than three months before the voting day.
The second round of the presidential election takes place within two weeks after the final results of the first round were announced.
Responsibility for the organization of the election lies with the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE).
The election campaign begins 22 days before the vote and ends 24 hours ahead of the start of the voting. In accordance with the law, campaigning is prohibited in state, public, private, educational and religious institutions. The law also prohibits the incitement of violence, hatred, fanaticism, and discrimination, as well as the use of national symbols, such as the Tunisian flag or the emblem of the republic, in electoral posters.
Presidential candidates can use political advertising. The candidates’ election funds may include their own, private and public funds.
In case the country is in a state of emergency, the presidential term of the incumbent head of state may be extended provided a relevant law is passed.
Before the voting begins, ISIE officials show empty ballot boxes to representatives of the candidates.
To receive the ballot, a voter submits a document confirming his or her identity to the election commission. In order to avoid multiple voting, each person has to immerse their index finger in the inkpot after receiving the ballot. A voter marks the ballot in person in a polling booth and puts an “x” sign next to the name of the selected candidate. Then the ballot paper is cast in a ballot box. If a ballot is damaged, a voter may request another one.
Disabled persons, who cannot check a box in a ballot on their own, have a right to be assisted by their relatives or another voter.
Tunisian citizens living abroad have three days to cast their votes, the last of these days being the election day.
The votes are counted publicly in the presence of observers and representatives of the candidates. After that, all parties sign a protocol, indicating the numbers of locks on the ballot box and the number of voters registered at the polling station. The final protocol is posted at the door of the polling station and a copy is put in the ballot box.
The ISIE may postpone the voting at one or more polling stations if it thinks that it is impossible to hold the election.
Preliminary election results are announced by ISIE within three days after the completion of the vote count. The election results, together with all the protocols, are published on the ISIE official website. An appeal on the election results may be filed within three days after their publication.
The candidate who received an absolute majority of votes is considered elected. If no one gets the necessary majority of votes in the first round, the second round of the election is held within 14 days. Two candidates with the best results in the first round qualify for the runoff. Following the second round, the candidate who received more votes than the opponent becomes president. If their numbers are equal, then preference is given to the oldest candidate.
The elected candidate takes office after taking the oath. An early presidential election is held in case of the death or resignation of the incumbent president.