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Tunisia’s Ennahda party will not run a candidate in the presidential election

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement stated on Sunday that it will not compete in the upcoming presidential election because it is unwilling to extend its dominance over more state institutions, Alamat Online news website reported.

The Islamist party’s decision could be seen to reinforce its openness to the country’s secularist opposition.

In the country’s final steps in its transition to democracy three years after the outbreak of a popular uprising that overthrew former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is preparing for parliamentary elections, which will be held on 26 October. The first round of the presidential elections is set to take place on 23 November.

Ennahda’s spokesperson Zied Ladhari told Reuters news agency that the movement’s Shura Council decided not to nominate any of its candidates for the presidential election.

“We want to send a positive message to the Tunisian people and politicians … We do not want to dominate all contests, especially since Ennahda will feature strongly in the parliamentary election next month,” he explained.

Ennahda and its rival party, the secular Call for Tunisia, are expected to win the largest number of seats in next month’s parliamentary elections. Earlier this year, the two parties reached an agreement allowing for the adoption of a new constitution and the formation of a transitional government until the coming election. While Ennahda maintains a broad mass base, Call for Tunisia is now seen as the leading secularist opposition party in the country.

Ennahda won the first free elections that took place in 2011 and formed a government along with the secular parties. However, after the assassination of two secular opponents, the country was pushed to a severe political crisis, resulting in the resignation of the government and its replacement it with another government at the end of last year.

During its time in office, Ennahda’s critics accused it of wanting to dominate the state’s institutions, only increasing their pressure after the Egyptian army overthrew the elected Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. Nevertheless, Ennahda appears to have come out of the impasse with only slight damages. By giving up some power, the movement remains a key player in the Tunisian political scene unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The new step supports the speculations that Ennhda would like to repeat the experience of being part of a coalition with secularist parties during the next five years.

Earlier this year, Call for Tunisia’s leader Beji Caid Essebsi said in an interview with Reuters that his party does not want to oust Ennahda, but rather it is ready to rule the country with Ennahda if the upcoming elections do not produce a clear winner.

Reuters reported that Ennahda has decided to support a consensus candidate for the presidential elections “who can unite Tunisians,” but had not discussed names yet.

Nominations for the presidency are expected to open on Monday. The upcoming election is set to see prominent presidential candidates compete for the presidency, including former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, incumbent President Moncef Marzouki, president of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar, head of the Elmahabba current Hamdi Al-Hashemi and leader of the Republican Party Najib Chebbi.

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