Who will be Tunisia's next president?

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Tunisian voters will be taking part in the first freely contested presidential election in their country's history

Tunisians go to the polls on 23 November to choose a new leader in what is hoped to be the first genuinely free presidential election in the country's history.

The incumbent interim President, Moncef Marzouki, was elected by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in 2011.

Before that, Tunisia had had only two presidents since independence in 1956 - Habib Bourguiba, the "father of independence", and Zine El-Abedine Ben Ali, who overthrew him in 1987 and eventually fled to Saudi Arabia in the 2011 revolution.

Some Tunisians describe the forthcoming election as the most important in their country's history.

Who's standing?

Voters have a dizzying choice of presidential hopefuls, with a ballot paper containing more than two dozen candidates.

Beji Caid Essebsi, the 87-year-old leader of Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia's Call), is already the favourite to win after his two-year-old party came first in the October parliamentary election.

The party proved its popularity, winning 85 of the National Assembly's 217 seats, but critics say Mr Essebsi, who held positions under the Bourguiba and Ben Ali governments, represents a return to the past.

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Beji Caid Essebsi

Among the other candidates are parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, outgoing interim leader Mr Marzouki, Republican Party leader Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, female magistrate Kalthoum Kannou and businessman Slim Riahi.

Figures from the Ben Ali era standing include former bank governor Mustapha Kamel Ennabli and former Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane.

Does Essebsi have a serious rival?

With pundits making the Nidaa Tounes leader favourite to move into the Carthage Palace, a number of candidates considered backing a consensus candidate to counter him.

However, moderate Islamist opposition party Ennahdha subsequently decided not to back such a candidate, and instead urged its supporters to vote for a president who would "encourage democracy" and "realise the goals of the revolution".

If no candidate wins a majority in Sunday's vote, the top two candidates will take part in a run-off scheduled for 31 December.

Who can stand for president?

Tunisia's electoral law, passed in May 2014, stipulates that candidates must secure the approval of 10 members of the National Constituent Assembly, or 40 heads of municipal assemblies, or collect 10,000 signatures from voters for their candidacies to be approved.

Candidates must also be registered on a voter list, hold Tunisian citizenship from birth, be a Muslim, and be at least 35 years old.

There is no gender bar for candidates, but outspoken Ben Ali opponent Kalthoum Kannou is the only woman on the ballot.

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Image caption,
Kalthoum Kannou

What will the new president's powers be?

Following the domination of Tunisian politics by an authoritarian leader for many years, a new constitution passed in January 2014 makes provisions for a political system dominated by parliament, in which the president has limited powers.

The president will still be the nominal head of state and "the symbol of its unity who guarantees its independence and stability and respect for the constitution", the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) says.

He or she will be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but can only appoint or sack senior army officers in consultation with the prime minister. The president will also set foreign policy in consultation with the prime minister, represent the state, and ratify treaties.

Will the election be peaceful?

Presidential candidate Monzer al-Zanaidi, who was a minister in the Ben Ali regime, was warned last week that there is a serious plot against his life.

It is not the first assassination threat against a candidate. The Interior Ministry says that it has uncovered plots against Mr Essebsi, and Free Patriotic Union candidate Salim al-Riyahi.

Tunisia is still facing the spectre of civil unrest and the threat of terrorism, with Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou saying the country faces "serious security threats" near the Algerian border where al-Qaeda militants are said to be hiding.

The ministry says all candidates have been placed under strict security measures to ensure their safety.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Presidential candidate Monzer al-Zanaidi was warned about possible assassination plot against his life.

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