Tunisia's PM Chahed submits bid to run for presidency

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. (Hasna, AFP)
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. (Hasna, AFP)

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has confirmed he will take part in the country's upcoming presidential elections that are scheduled to take place on September 15.

Speaking before members of his Tahya Tounes party on Thursday, Chahed said he was ready to assume the role, which he professed entailed great "responsibility".

"It is a big responsibility and I know something about that," said the 43-year-old Chahed.

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"Detractors will point to the negative but never talk about the reforms and accomplishments in favour of those less fortunate, the environment… our war against corruption and other such acts," he continued.

An agricultural engineer by training, Chahed was appointed prime minister in 2016 and is the seventh head of government the North African country has had since the 2011 overthrow of longtime leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Tahya Tounes (Long Live Tunisia) - which Chahed helped found after falling out of grace with the late President Beji Caid Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes - had nominated him for the position last week.

After winning a plurality of seats in Tunisia's first democratically elected parliament in 2014, infighting within Essebsi's secularist Nidaa Tounes (The Call of Tunisia) led to the defection of more than half of the party's parliamentarians, including a breakaway faction that went on to form Tahya Tounes.

'Shift in strategy'

Chahed is among more than 50 other presidential hopefuls as of Friday, the registration deadline.

Prominent nominees include Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, media mogul Nabil Karoui and the Ennahdha party's second in command and speaker of parliament, Abdelfattah Mourou.

Analysts say Mourou's nomination came as a surprise in light of Ennahdha's decision in the past to avoid positions of high visibility.

Sharan Grewal, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the move constitutes an important shift in the movement's political strategy.

"Since 2014, Ennahdha has sought to take a second role out of fear that assuming a leadership role would re-ignite the polarisation Tunisia saw in 2012-13 and thereby threaten the transition," said Grewal.

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"What has changed, however, are the polls. Ennahdha's coalition partner, Youssef Chahed, was the favourite for the election. But by late spring, it shifted to Nabil Karoui, the head of Nessma TV, one of the most anti-Islamist stations.

"Ennahdha, therefore, calculated that defeating Karoui is worth the risk of reigniting some polarisation."

The presidency, which has historically played a pivotal role in the running of the country, is seen by many today as a largely ceremonial role with the head of state's portfolio limited to foreign affairs and defence. 

The electoral commission will announce the final list of eligible candidates on August 31. 

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