July 31, 2019 / 1:32 PM / 5 months ago

Tunisia prime minister to run for president following Essebsi's death

FILE PHOTO: Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed attends a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte in Tunis, Tunisia, April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

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

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.

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

The party, which split off from Essebsi’s party this year, is now the biggest liberal group in Tunisia’s parliament. It governs in coalition with the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party 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.

A presidential election due in November this year will now be held two months early following the death of Essebsi.

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.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Peter Graff

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