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September 16, 2019

Tunisia voters ‘choose best of bad lot’


September 16, 2019

Haifa Baccouche was angry but she still went out “to choose the best of a bad lot” in Tunisia’s presidential polls on Sunday.

The woman in her 30s said she had no confidence in Tunisia’s “mediocre political class”, but she still wanted to exercise her right to vote and advance the country’s fledgling democracy. She summed up the feelings of many Tunisians exasperated by power struggles between politicians and their inability to combat unemployment and a high cost of living.

Baccouche herself has a degree in biology but works in a call centre, having failed to find a job in her field. On a sun-drenched morning, voters lined up at polling stations in Tunis to choose from 26 candidates on the ballot paper, two of whom dropped out of the race.

“I still have no idea which candidate I’m going to vote for,” said 60-year-old Rabah Hamdi. At polling stations visited by AFP journalists, most voters were middle-aged or older. “Where are the young people? This is their country, their future,” said Adil Toumi, a man in his 60s.

“They’re having a lie-in,” another voter joked. In a creative move, bars in the Gammarth suburb of northern Tunis were offering half-price beers to customers who showed an inked finger -- proof they voted. But many needed no such incentive.

“I’m 81 years old and I am very happy to take part in this free election. Today, thanks to God, there is democracy,” said Abdel Aziz Mahgoub, smiling. In the upmarket suburb of La Marsa, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha movement’s candidate, Abdelfattah Mourou, also smiled broadly as he cast his ballot.

Prime minister and liberal candidate Youssef Chahed likewise cast his ballot in La Marsa. “I urge you to vote en masse so that no one decides your fate for you. Tonight or tomorrow, Tunisia will be in good hands,” he said.

A candidate who attracted a lot of attention, the controversial and popular media mogul Nabil Karoui, detained on money laundering charges, did not get to vote behind bars. Around 70,000 security forces were mobilised for Tunisia’s second democratic election by universal suffrage since its 2011 revolution that toppled longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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