Tunisia's biggest political party, Ennahda, finished first in Sunday's parliamentary elections and is set for complex negotiations with other parties to form a coalition government as the north African country faces a greater risk of deadlock. Preliminary results of the legislative election showed Ennahda, which played a crucial role in both the 2011 revolution and the shift to a civil and democratic administration, came out on top with 52 out of 217 seats, well short of the 109 needed to govern. The recently formed Qalb Tounes party of business tycoon and presidential candidate Nabil Karoui placed second with 38 seats. The top party, Ennahda, gets to designate the prime minister. But with 217 seats in the Assembly of People's Representatives, both parties are far from a majority. That puts the nation that kicked off the Arab Spring uprisings and the only country to emerge with a democracy on a potentially fractious political path.
In the run-up to the legislative vote, Ennahda and Qalb Tounes officially ruled out forming an alliance. Even if the two leading parties could form a coalition, they would need to negotiate with other factions to secure the support of a minimum of 109 legislators in order to secure a parliamentary majority. If the main party in parliament cannot form a coalition, the president gets to nominate his own candidate to try instead. If all that fails, there will be another parliamentary election.
Any political deadlock resulting from the sharply fragmented parliament would complicate Tunisia's efforts to address chronic economic problems including a large public debt and unemployment of 15%. Following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi in July, Tunisia could face a power vacuum and may lack a figure on whom each party could agree. The country has been experiencing economic and security problems. Unemployment has been increasing, while the presence of Daesh-affiliated groups constantly poses threats to the country.Tunisia has been struggling to preserve its democratic course since the ouster of an autocratic president after the revolution in 2011 that inspired a variety of revolutions and conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa region. The country is a unique post-Arab Spring country in terms of being able to hold elections with little interference or influence from external actors compared to other Arab countries.
Jailed presidential candidate Karoui leaves prison
Presidential candidate Karoui left a prison late Wednesday where he has been jailed since August, just four days before the presidential runoff vote. The jailing and last-minute release of Karoui, was the latest saga in a topsy-turvy electoral season in this North African country trying to make its budding democracy flourish. As legislative election results were announced late Wednesday, three days after the voting, it became clear that Tunisian politics would be put to the test. Karoui will face an independent law professor Kais Saied, who is backed by Ennahda. Both candidates are political novices but beat out a crowded field of contenders in the first round of voting.
Karoui has been unable to campaign
in person, either at the hustings, in the country's first televised presidential debates last month, or in media interviews. However, his campaign has been active across Tunisia, with his wife Saloua Samoui often appearing in the media. Saied suspended his campaign, saying the election must be fought on a level playing field.
If Karoui loses the election, he may have grounds to appeal, given he spent most of the campaign behind bars. The electoral commission has already warned that his detention may infringe election rules. Saied could also appeal a Karoui victory, particularly if allegations regarding a lobbying contract are proven. If Karoui is detained again and wins, it is not clear if he can be sworn in without leaving his prison cell to attend the ceremony in parliament. If he is subsequently found guilty of money laundering and tax fraud, it is not clear whether presidential immunity would apply to crimes committed before the election. If a president is not sworn in within 45 days, Tunisians must vote again.