Ben Ali enters Tunisian presidential race
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 27/08/09
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali officially joined the field of candidates Wednesday (August 26th) in the country's 2009 presidential election, scheduled for October 25th.
The president said he would ensure that Tunisia "always remain the nation of hard work, ijtihad, moderation, dialogue, tolerance, solidarity and concord", if elected to a fifth five-year term.
A day earlier, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, which he claimed "lacks the minimum requirements of freedom, integrity and transparency".
He accused the authorities of "closing of the doors of hope in the face of Tunisians".
Chebbi, the former PDP secretary-general, began campaigning informally earlier this year. His presidential bid became officially illegal however, after the government enacted a law that requires presidential candidates to be the elected secretary-general of a recognised party.
Despite Chebbi's withdrawal from the race, at least three challengers will face Ben Ali in the October vote: Mohammed Bouchiha of the People's Unity Party (PUP), Ahmed Brahim of the Ettajdid Movement, and Ahmed Innoubli of the Unionist Democratic Union.
President Ben Ali demanded a fair election in an August 15th meeting with the Interior Minister, requesting that "this important political milestone be conducted in an atmosphere of transparency and respect of law".
Nevertheless, Ahmed Brahim has complained of an unfair government crackdown on his party and its newspaper. During a press conference on August 18th, Brahim said the Ettajdid Movement expressed its "strong protest" after "the authorities completely impeded the regular political meetings and activities of the party".
He claimed that his party had to cancel three political activities in a single week after authorities pressured Tunis hotels "to prevent them from renting space to the party to hold its meetings".
Finally, Brahim accused the Tunisian authorities of impeding the distribution of his party's weekly newspaper, Attariq Aljadid. He called on the government to "put an end to these exclusionist practices", and to provide the "minimum requirements of fair competition during the elections".
On August 19th, an "anonymous government source" denied any crackdown on Brahim or his Ettajdid Movement, calling the allegations "completely baseless". The statement, released to foreign media in Tunisia, assured readers that the "Ettajdid Movement, like any other political party in Tunisia, is free to organise its activities and to express its opinions and positions."
The source also said that the hotel booking problem arose due to an "incorrect bank check" when the party made the reservations.
An anonymous source told Magharebia: "The check which was given to the hotel was actually incorrect, as it was dated 2000 instead of 2009." The same official said that the party had been allowed to meet in two other locations, in Monastir and Madhia.
Mondher Thabet of the Liberal Social Party said that his group had not suffered any harassment in its political activities. "In our party movements and activities, we're careful not to use provocative slogans," he said.
He expressed his hope that all the competing parties would "abide by the democratic game and fair competition rules".
Hicham Al Hajji of the PUP political bureau told Magharebia that his party had "carried out a lot of activities inside the capital and outside, in public and private venues, and we haven't found anything but help".
On July 30th, Abdelwaheb El Behi, President of the National Observatory for Presidential and Legislative Elections, stressed the impartiality of his institution and said it would record all violations and work hard to ensure independent and transparent elections.
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