Chebbi plans Tunisian presidency bid despite legal roadblock
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 07/13/08
Tunisia's Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) is determined to name Nejib Chebbi as its candidate for the 2009 presidential elections. Under pending legislation, however, his candidacy would be against the law.
A bill likely to be ratified by the Tunisian legislature requires that a presidential candidate be an elected secretary-general of a recognised party.
Chebbi, the former PDP secretary-general and current editor-in-chief of Al Mawkif newspaper, began campaigning informally in the Tunisian governorates earlier this year. His presidential bid – and opposition to the pending electoral law amendment which would effectively render it illegal – has the full support of current Progressive Democratic Party chief Maya Jribi.
Speaking at a July 5th seminar in Tunis, Jribi said her party's rejection of the proposed law "doesn't stem from a desire to insist on certain individuals or specific decisions [but rather] from the profound belief in the right of the Tunisian people to free choice".
Jribi explained, "Our aim has always been to establish a political and legal system that respects the intelligence of the Tunisian people and gets close to the generally accepted standards of electoral processes."
Nejib Chebbi told Magharebia: "We have two choices: either reform or chaos. In this fully closed political environment, we have no other option but to reject this law, be vocal against it and mobilise public opinion against it."
"We can't continue with this status quo," he said.
While acknowledging that defying the electoral law would be difficult, Chebbi remains optimistic.
"The huge democratic tide that is overwhelming the entire world can't exclude our country. With great resolve, we wanted to take part in this battle of elections before its launch. We have forced the authorities and opposition alike to include the elections issue on their political agenda," he said.
Meanwhile, in response to accusations levied by opposition activists that the electoral law was changed specifically to exclude contenders such as Chebbi, Justice Minister Bechir Tekkari told reporters on July 4th that "all world countries impose certain conditions on candidates for presidential elections in order to guarantee the candidates' credibility".
The electoral law amendment has actually enhanced democracy, Tekkari added, because the previous presidential election only allowed candidates who were leaders of parties with representatives in parliament.
While the legislature mulls changing the rules for electoral candidate eligibility, PDP members at the July 5th gathering called for "cleaning" the political atmosphere.
For their part, the PDP proposed making a "substantial constitutional amendment" limiting the number of presidential terms to two only; something that would put an end to the presidency for life system.
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been in power since 1987. He is expected to announce his intention to run for re-election during the congress of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party to be held by the end of July.
Despite the legal challenges and party rallies, the controversy over the elections appears to have little impact on average citizens in Tunisia. According to Samir Hzami, the only thing that concerns him is how to provide a decent living for himself and his children. "Let anyone be the President of the Republic," he told Magharebia.
18-year-old Makrem Dridi is mostly concerned with how he will pay for his summer vacation. He has not yet made up his mind whether he will vote.
"I don't think that our elections will be a hotly-contested race like the case in Europe and US…It will not change anything in my life," the teenager said.
However, Selma, a 50-year-old employee, thinks that the next election is important for all Tunisians. Until then, she hopes that the current president takes important measures such as increasing salaries. "I don’t know a lot about Chebbi," she admitted.
Her friend Meryam was not interested in discussing the subject at all.
"Leave the talk about politics to the people of politics," she says.
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