Tunisia and Israel's highly contested mid-September elections could see new political actors emerge at helm, with widespread implications for both countries and their region. While both countries have their own internal politics to take care of, the elections and their results will have significance for the Middle East and North Africa, especially in light of post-Arab Spring politics and the ongoing instability in the region.
Tunisia election: Out with the old, in with the new
Tunisia remains the only country in North Africa and the Middle East to successfully hold back-to-back democratic elections after the Arab Spring protests that started sweeping through the region in 2011.
The two outsiders turned front-runners, Kais Saied (left) and Nabil Karoui (right), will square off in the second round of Tunisia’s presidential election. Image: @ISIETN
The presidential election, held on September 15, has seen the rise of relative outsiders spoiling the political fortunes of current Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and Abdelfattah Mourou, who were earlier seen as likely top contenders. Law professor Kais Saied has emerged as frontrunner, with 18.4% of votes cast on Monday, September 16, in his favour. Media mogul Nabil Karoui followed closely behind with 15.58%. Karoui is currently in jail on allegations of money laundering.
According to Agence Tunis-Afrique-Presse, Farouk Bouasker, the vice president of Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections, said the three possible dates for a second round of presidential election votes are September 29, October 6 or October 13.
Tunisia’s place in post-Arab Spring politics cannot be underestimated. In an act of self-immolation in December 2011, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, acting as a catalyst for the pro-democracy movement that changed the course of politics in the Arab world.
Syria has been engulfed in civil war since the the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Image: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters
Egypt has since had a democratic election, and a coup. In Algeria, the protesters who forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika out of power still file the streets, demanding elections that they hope will flush out the remnants of his long dictatorship.
The civil war in Syria, also set in motion by the Arab Spring movement, still rages on. The conflict has displaced an estimated 6.2 million within the country, and according to the UN Human Rights Council, Syria’s internally displaced population, which includes 2.5 million children, is the biggest in the world.
Israel Election: Which way for Bibi?
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid for a fifth term hangs by a thread as results still coming from the September 17 polls are too tight to call. Preliminary results from the Central Elections Committee show the Blue and White, with Benny Gantz at the helm, taking the leading position, with Netanhyahu's Likud coming a close second.
With 68% of the votes counted, Gantz leads with 25.92% of the vote. Other parties showing clout include The Joint List, which has garnered 10.5% and sits comfortably in third place. In fourth place with 7.46% of the vote is Shas.
While Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu currently holds fifth position, with only 6.99% of votes counted so far, he is touted to be the kingmaker. Without him, it is unlikely that either side will form a government.
This will not be the first time Netanyahu tries to cobble together a coalition government. After the elections in May, Lieberman scuppered his efforts by refusing to to form a coalition government, forcing Netanyahu to call a snap election.
Netanyahu will make history as the longest serving Israeli prime minister if he does manages to form a new government. He will surpass David Ben-Gurion who served as Prime Minister for four terms.