Tunisia's President described 2019 on Monday evening as "a decisive and electoral year par excellence." Beji Caid Essebsi added that 2018 had been "tough" in a televised New Year address to the people of his country.
"Last year was a challenging and tense year for all Tunisian citizens due to the high costs of everyday accommodation, the deterioration of purchasing power and unemployment," explained the President. He acknowledged that, "In recent weeks there has been a proliferation of peaceful and non-peaceful protests in various areas, particularly, in Kasserine Province (west)."
Nevertheless, said Essebsi, "We will enter 2019 with a higher sense of responsibility and optimism because it is a decisive and electoral year par excellence. It is the year of the parliamentary and presidential elections which will be held in respect of freedom, impartiality and transparency standards. We want the coming elections to be dedicated to the democratic process we are going through."
Tunisia is perceived as the only relatively successful democratic model among the Arab states that have experienced popular revolutions since late 2010. "Democracy cannot be imposed," the Tunisian leader stressed, "it is, rather, practiced. It is necessary to provide the appropriate climate for elections to take place in convenient conditions."
Essebsi told Tunisians that there are unfinished projects on the political agenda, such as the Constitutional Court. "We are behind schedule to establish the court, as three members have to be elected from the parliament." Legislators failed for the fourth time in July to elect the three members. The Speaker of the Parliament, Mohammed Al-Nasser, declared at the time that none of the candidates received the required number of votes, set at 145.
As for the obstacles hindering the coming elections, he pointed out that the Independent High Authority for Elections (IHEC) still has no president. "An additional three committee members must be in place before the elections." The IHEC Chairman, Mohammed Al-Mansri Al-Talili, announced his resignation last July, since when parliament has not been able to elect a successor to head the agency.
"Moreover," insisted President Essebsi, "the Tunisian people must fulfil the duty of participating in the elections. There is no legitimate excuse to boycott them." He made reference to the low participation rate, estimated at 33.7 per cent, in the municipal elections held last May.
"Whoever wants to run for office may do so," added the veteran politician. "We will accept with pleasure the results of the elections."
The upcoming elections in Tunisia are of particular importance, given that Essebsi announced recently the end of the accord with Ennahda movement, a member of the ruling coalition, due to its refusal to sack Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.