Former US-based Tunisian businessman joins presidential race

“Tunisia needs a president (that will run the country) like a general manager of a company, not like a politician,” Bennaceur said when announcing his candidacy.
Wednesday 10/07/2019
Tunisian businessman Sofiene Bennaceur.
Tunisian businessman Sofiene Bennaceur.

TUNIS - Tunisian financial expert Sofiene Bennaceur announced his presidential bid on Wednesday, widening an already crowded field of presidential hopefuls ahead of November elections. 

Bennaceuer, a former member of the leading Nidaa Tounes party who holds a doctorate degree in economics and business, said he would prioritise economic development, investment and job creation to put the country back on track. 

“Tunisia needs a president (that will run the country) like a general manager of a company, not like a politician,” Bennaceur said when announcing his candidacy. 

Originally from Ezzahra, a suburb of Tunis, Bennaceur lived and worked in the United States for over three decades, where he specialised in financial services, information technology and crisis management. He returned home in 2011, opening a Tunisian branch of his private equity firm Triplanet Capital.

Central to Bennaceur’s presidential platform is expanding Tunisia’s economic ties with the US and other Western countries, including Canada and the UK. He also believes it is critical to "(reduce) tax pressure on small and medium-sized enterprises” and “(provide) good conditions for foreign investment.” 

Bennaceur has criticised Tunisia’s political establishment for failing to “address economic problems and meet the needs of Tunisian society” during its democratic transition.

“Economically, all indicators are red,” Bennaceur said in an interview with L’economiste Maghrebin “(The country’s) decision makers are stuck and (continue to delay) reforms. As a consequence, the country's economy still faces the plagues... of corruption, smuggling, tax evasion and the informal economy.” 

Citing the high cost of living and the faltering value of the country’s currency, Bennaceur added that the road to economic recovery is “far from over.” 

“The horizon is unfortunately darkened. When we know is that this situation is (the result of) an accumulation of errors,” he told L’economiste Maghrebin. 

Bennaceur is not the first entrepreneur formerly linked to Nidaa Tounes to join the country’s presidential race. Tunisian media and advertising mogul Nabil Karoui has also launched a presidential campaign, branding himself as a political outsider focused on “eradicating poverty.”

In a July 10 opinion poll released by Tunisia’s Sigma agency, Karoui topped the list of presidential contenders, receiving an estimated 23% support. He was trailed by constitutional law professor Kais Said at 20%, Free Destourian candidate Abir Moussi at 12% and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed at 7%. 

But Karoui, a well-connected media and advertising executive who owns the influential Nessma media channel, faces numerous obstacles to his campaign due to recent judicial charges and possible legal restrictions hindering his candidacy. 

On July 8, Tunisia’s Economic and Financial Pole announced Karoui had been charged with money laundering, had his assets frozen and been issued a travel ban.

Further complicating his presidential bid concerns is a pending amendment to the country’s electoral law that would exclude him from the race. The amendment, which has been passed by parliament and is awaiting approval from President Beji Caid Essebsi, would bar prospective candidates who are deemed to have benefited from “charitable associations" or foreign funding. 

Karoui’s charity foundation, Khalil Tounes, was often featured on his Nessma channel providing aid in impoverished areas of the country, helping bolster the businessman’s popularity.

"Qalb Tounes," a political party recently formed by Karoui, also leads in opinion polls.