Tunisia's new president, Qais Saied, is expected to take power at the end of October. What are some of the challenges that he will face?
After an intense election campaign, citizens of Tunisia have elected the former law professor, Qais Saied, as their next president. Saied, who ran as an independent but received an endorsement from the Ennahda Party, won over his rival, Nabil Karoui, by a significant margin, gaining 76.9% of the vote. The election marks an important point for Tunisia, as it was not marred by any security incidents or irregularities, highlighting that the country’s democratic institutions are maturing. However, as Saied takes the post of presidency at the end of October, he will face a number of challenges.
Chief among these challenges is the economy. A World Bank report that coincided with the elections showed that the Tunisian economy has plateaued, with the public debt rising over 100,000,000 Tunisian dinars. Absent new economic policies, the poverty rate in the country may reach 17%. Economic malaise was among the main causes of the protests that started the protest movement that came to be known as the Arab Spring. Virtually every Tunisian Government has since struggled with the economy.
Passing new economic policies will be difficult without parliamentary consensus and political support. Although Saied was endorsed by Ennahda Party – which also gained the most votes in the recent parliamentary elections – he still ran on an independent platform. He was often described as a protest candidate for Tunisian youth who are fed up with the political deadlock that took place under the watch of the country’s main parties, including Ennahda. This means that Saied, whose promises included fighting corruption and enacting the rule of law, may find it difficult to build political consensus to enact permanent solutions to Tunisia’s problems. Furthermore, despite the importance placed on the elections, Tunisian constitution gives the presidency limited power, making Saied’s promises of reform even harder to achieve.
Tunisia’s foreign relations under Saied is another unknown. Saied’s best known foreign policy position is his staunch support the Palestinian cause. More locally, Saied is a staunch supporter of the cause of the Arab Spring, which may bring him closer with the Libyan Government of National Accord or the Egyptian Opposition but at the expense of relations with the Egyptian Government, the Libyan House of Representatives Government and the Algerian Government.
Other issues concern terrorism. Although Tunisia has not suffered any major security incidents, the country saw many of its citizens join ISIS and other extremist groups, and prospects of their return has been a recurring concern among Tunisians.
While the new president will likely face a number of challenges and an uphill path towards bringing the country to prosperity, Tunisians have nevertheless many reasons to be proud of how the elections were conducted. One hopes that the positive circumstances surrounding the elections can last in the coming years.