Tunisia goes to the polls on Sunday 15th September for the third presidential election in the country’s history.
Following the death of Tunisia’s president Beji Caid Essebsi, the north-African country widely regarded as the only success story emerging from the Arab spring will hold the first-round of presidential elections this Sunday.
Only Tunisia’s third free and fair election since independence in 1956, the poll is a major test of the country’s stability as it struggles under the weight of a spluttering economy, ideological divides and a troublesome region.
There are 26 official candidates with politician frontrunners including the incumbent prime minister Youssef Chahed, defence minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, former president Moncef Marzouki and the interim parliamentary speaker Abdelfettah Mourou.
Other candidates include jurist and media commentator Kais Saïed and lawyer Abir Moussi, leader of the anti-Islamist Free Destourian Party.
Nabil Karoui, media magnate and businessman, is shaking up the contest by campaigning from inside prison after he was charged with tax fraud and money laundering last month.
Seen as a populist, Karoui is running on an anti-establishment platform which claims to champion poorer Tunisians.
His critics argue he is misusing his media platform and philanthropy for political gain.
If Karoui is found guilty and wins the election, Tunisia will enter new and potentially destabilising territory as his supporters accuse politicians of underhand tactics to bar him from the race.
Recent polls suggest the tycoon may well challenge the two major political forces in the country: the secular Tahya Tounes party, which split from the late-president Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party earlier this year, and the Ennahda Movement, which runs as a Muslim democratic party.
Youssef Chahed and Abdelfettah Mourou represent these two parties respectively.
Tunisia, as elsewhere in the Maghreb and other Arab nations, is torn between a secular and Islamist vision of the country’s future.
In 2013, the country almost descended into chaos after several leftist leaders were assassinated, allegedly by Islamist extremists.
Although a secularist, Essebsi is credited with holding the country together by offering an olive branch to Tunisia’s Islamists.
After the 2014 election, the former president struck an uneasy power-sharing alliance with his political rival Rached Ghannouchi from the Ennahda Movement.
The unity government was commended for its ability to bring stability but has since been criticised due to its creation of an ineffectual government, unable to pass serious reform.
Last year the country was rocked by widespread protests against bread and grain price increases, under instruction from a 2016 $2.9bn IMF programme.
This year’s January 1 budget raised taxes on gasoline, phone cards, internet usage and hotel rooms which was met with similar opposition.
With the economy teetering on recession since it emerged from -1.917 % GDP growth in 2011, many are frustrated with the current political class as the demands of the revolution almost nine years ago are yet to be met.