Poll shows main contenders in Tunisia's election races

The rising popularity of Abir Moussi was described as "the biggest surprise of the poll."
Friday 22/03/2019
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (R) and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C). (AFP)
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (R) and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C). (AFP)

TUNIS - Months before Tunisia’s presidential and legislative elections, a recent poll  is shedding light on prospective candidates’ level of popular support.

According to  the survey, conducted earlier this week by Tunisian polling agency Sigma Conseil, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed leads the pool of potential presidential candidates, receiving support from an estimated 19.3% of the electorate.

The poll’s results were published by Arabic language daily Al Maghrib.

Chahed is followed in voter preference by jurist and media commentator Kaïs Saïed (12.1%), former President Moncef Marzouki (11.7%) and leader of the anti-Islamist Free Destourian Party Abir Moussi (7.1%).

The rising popularity of Moussi, a largely anti-establishment figure who is critical of many of the country’s leading political figures, is attributed by analysts to voters’ growing disillusionment with the country’s political class since the 2011 uprising.

Political analyst Ziyad Krichen said Moussi’s popular support was the "biggest surprise of the poll."  Her "radical rejection of the revolution," he added, is buttressed by Tunisians’ "growing belief" that the country was in a better situation before 2011. (According to a recent poll, up to 80% of the public hold that view).

Two central figures in Tunisian politics, President Beji Caid Essebsi and Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, are credited with only 6.7% and 3.1% of possible votes, respectively. Neither of the two have declared their intent to run in the upcoming presidential elections, the first round of which will take place in November.

Former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s presidential ambitions are backed by 5.3% of potential voters.

On the far left, two potential candidates are competing for Tunisia’s “progressive” vote: Hamma Hammami, longstanding leader of Tunisia’s Popular Front  party (6.7%), and emerging leftist contender Mongi Rahoui (2.1%).

Trailing in popularity are Nabil Karoui, owner and chief executive officer of Nessma TV channel, and Nizar Chaari, a media personality and youth leader. The two candidates received only 1.3% and 1% of the possible votes, respectively. But if there is any consolation for the two, it is that they are appearing as prospective candidates for the first time. 

No one party seems poised to win an overwhelming victory in the legislative elections, which are scheduled for October.

Against the background of a divided secularist opposition, the Islamist Ennahda party is predicted to lead in the polls, taking 24.7% of the votes.

Political analysts disagree on what impact an Islamist victory in legislative elections would have on voter attitude ahead of presidential polls a month later.

The country’s main secularist Nidaa Tounes party, beset by internal disputes and high-level defections, would still rank second at 20% of votes for parliament.

Tahya Tounes, an offshoot of Nidaa Tounes recently formed by supporters of Chahed, is expected to finish third with 11.9% of the vote.

But experts believe it is too early to say just how well Tahya Tounes will perform. Much will depend on its ability to widen its support base and appeal to Nidaa’s constituency. The party says it has gained 100,000 new members since its creation a few weeks ago.

Tahya Tounes is trailed by the leftist Popular Front, at 9.9% of the vote, and the Free Destourian Party at 9.2%.

The Free Destourian Party is attempting to gnaw at the same secularist constituency as Nidaa Tounes and Tahya Tounes.

What's at stake is finishing second in parliamentary elections and having a better chance of participating in the formation of the next government. For now, that would mean cohabitating with the Islamists, which at least one party among the three would find difficult to envisage.