It is still a rarity in the Arab world in 2019: 26 candidates - 24 men and two women - compete for the presidency in Tunisia on Sunday. They can lead a free election campaign, debate on television and advertise their positions. Around seven million people can vote in free and fair elections. The election outcome is open.
Originally, the presidential elections were scheduled to take place at the end of the year, but after the death of incumbent Béji Caïd Essebsi at the end of July, the vote on 15 September was brought forward. These are the second free and direct presidential elections in Tunisia since the fall of long-time dictator Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Because of the large number of candidates, no candidate should reach the necessary absolute majority in the first ballot on Sunday. Then the two first place finishers will face each other in a runoff election on 3 November.
Tunisian laws prohibit the publication of opinion polls before the election. The last polls are from July - at that time Essebsi was still alive and it was still far from clear who would run in the presidential election at all. Accordingly, it is difficult to predict who will be ahead on Sunday.
REUTERS / Zoubeir Souissi / File Photo
Campaign poster with the inscription: "We demand the release of Nabil Karoui"
Nabil Karoui was almost always in the top two in spring and summer polls. The 65-year-old is nicknamed "the Tunisian Berlusconi". In fact, in 2007, the businessman and PR expert had founded together with Berlusconi and others the Tunisian television station Nessma. After Ben Ali's fall, he helped Essebsi in the founding of its party Nidaa Tounes ("reputation Tunisia"), which should form a counterweight to the Islamist Ennahda party. Karoui's PR firm led Essebsi's presidential campaign in 2014.
In 2017, Karoui but defeated with the presidential son Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, who had become party leader of Nidaa Tounes. This summer Karoui founded the party Qalb Tounes ("Heart of Tunisia").
The millionaire uses his television channel for the election campaign and for his aid organization, which he founded in 2016 after the accidental death of his son. He stages himself as a popular populist, who as president will wage a war on poverty. How exactly he wants to do that, however, remains unclear - especially as the power of the head of state was significantly curtailed in the current constitution of 2014 in favor of the prime minister.
Karoui will pursue the election on Sunday from a jail cell. At the end of August he was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering. He himself denies the allegations and staged himself as a victim of a politicized judiciary. According to the electoral law, only conviction could prevent Karoui from running for office - so his name will still be on the ballot on Sunday.
Moneem Sakhri / AFP
Kaïs Saïed: The law professor incites homosexuals
The law professor Kaïs Saïed drives a similarly populist course. He wants to reintroduce the death penalty and give greater powers to the various regional governments. In the election campaign, he repeatedly expressed homophobic - among other things, he described homosexuality as a lifestyle that is financed by foreign countries and spread to harm Tunisia.
AP Photo / Hassene Dridi
Abdelfattah Mourou: The Islamist is moderate
With these statements Saïed wants to chase away the Islamist Ennahda conservative voters. The Islamists do not send their most prominent husband, party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, into the race, but his longtime companion Abdelfattah Mourou . He campaigned as a pragmatist and talked, among other things, of wanting to establish "a digital army" to protect Tunisia's youth from religious zealots from the Gulf States. He also promised to work for the pensioners. But even if Mourou should move into the runoff, a success in the second round in early November is unlikely. With many Tunisians, the fear of the Islamists is so great that they would assemble in the ballot box behind his opponent - no matter who that is.
REUTERS / Zoubeir Souissi
Election rally for Youssef Chahed: The prime minister promises stability
Maybe it will be Youssef Chahed . He has served as Prime Minister since 2016. When he took office, he was still a member of Essebsis Nidaa Tounes. As a result, he overcame himself with the president and his son. This year he founded his own party Tahya Tounes ("Long live Tunisia"). He presents himself as a man of reason and continuity who leads Tunisia into a secure future in the face of turbulence in neighboring Algeria and Libya.
Whether that's enough, is open. The Chahed is also the face of poor economic conditions: The Tunisian dinar has since 2011 lost about 60 percent of its value to the US dollar, more than one in four university graduates is unemployed. The gap between the relatively prosperous areas along the coast and the poorer hinterland has continued to open up in recent years.
Chahed promises stability to the Tunisians. But that may not be enough in 2019 anymore.