Tunisia sets presidential polls after Essebsi's death

PM Youssef Chahed announces candidacy in presidential elections, becoming one of the likely frontrunners to succeed Beji Caid Essebsi after electoral body rejects calls to postpone vote.

TUNIS - Tunisia's prime minister, Youssef Chahed, will run for president in an early election expected on Sept. 15, his Tahya Tounes party said on Wednesday, making him one of the likely frontrunners to succeed Beji Caid Essebsi, who died last week.

The North African country's electoral body said on Wednesday that presidential polls will be held on September 15, rejecting calls to postpone the vote after the death of ailing Essebsi.

"The office of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections has set the date of September 15 for the presidential elections," the body's head Nabil Baffoun told the press late Tuesday after consultations with political parties.

Originally scheduled for November, the vote was brought forward following Essebsi's death on July 25.

Potential nominees must submit their candidacy between August 2 and August 9.

The campaigns are scheduled to run from September 2 to September 13, with the results announced two days after the polls.

A date for the second round of presidential elections has not yet been decided, but Baffoun said it would be held no later than November 3.

The announcement came just hours after the body met with representatives of political parties and civil society, some of whom demanded it postpone the first round of elections to run with parliamentary polls set for October 6.

Essebsi, 92, a secularist who helped guide the transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, was buried at a state funeral on Saturday. The speaker of parliament has been sworn in as interim president to lead the country to a new election.

Internal conflicts

Slim Azzabi, secretary-general of the Tahya Tounes party, said it would nominate Chahed as its presidential candidate.

The prime minister will discuss his candidature "after the end of the (seven-day) mourning period" for Essebsi.

Chahed, who studied agricultural engineering, entered politics after Tunisia's 2011 uprising which ousted autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

He was picked by Essebsi in 2016 to head the government, as a member of the president's ruling Nidaa Tounes party.

But internal conflicts - including a power struggle between Chahed and the late president's son - led the premier to quit the party and form Tahya Tounes.

Tahya Tounes is now the biggest liberal group and the second largest party in Tunisia's parliament. It governs in coalition with the largest party - the moderate Islamist Ennahda - and a smaller liberal group.

Ennahda has not yet named its candidate for the presidency.

Other candidates who have announced their intention to stand include liberal former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, and Moncef Marzouki, who served as interim president for three years after autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, until Essebsi was chosen in the first democratic presidential election in 2014.

Tunisia was the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, and the only country where those revolts were followed by a peaceful transition to democracy. Nevertheless it remains mired in a severe economic crisis that has fuelled social discontent.

Tunisia's president mainly has authority over foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.