Tunisians are to vote in the second round of a presidential election on Sunday, capping off four years of a sometimes chaotic transition since their country sparked the Arab Spring.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki faces political veteran Beji Caid Essebsi in the vote — the first time Tunisians will be allowed to freely elect their president since independence from France in 1956.
It was protests in Tunisia and the 2011 ouster of longtime Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that set off the chain of revolts that saw several Arab leaders toppled by citizens demanding democratic reforms.
From Egypt and Libya to Syria and Yemen, violent unrest followed.
However, Tunisia has largely avoided the bloodshed that has plagued other Arab Spring states, and its citizens are feeling hopeful ahead of the runoff vote.
“We hope the transition will be over, that the elections will be honest,” 29-year-old student Anissa Yahyaoui said. “I hope that everyone will go vote and everything will go well.”
Major challenges remain for Tunisia.
The small North African nation’s economy is struggling to recover from the upheaval of the revolution, and there are fears that widespread joblessness will cause social unrest.
A nascent jihadist threat has also emerged, with militant groups long suppressed under Ben Ali carrying out several attacks including the killings of two politicians.
The first round of the presidential election, held on Nov. 23, saw Essebsi, an 88-year-old who heads the Nidaa Tounes Party, take 39 percent of the vote.
Marzouki, a 69-year-old former rights activist installed by parliament two months after December 2011 polls, took 33 percent.
Nidaa Tounes won parliamentary elections in October and Essebsi has emerged as the clear favorite to be Tunisia’s next leader, though with reduced influence after constitutional changes stripped the president of many powers.
Nidaa Tounes has said it is waiting until after the presidential vote to start the process of forming a government.
The presidential campaign has been marked by mudslinging, with Essebsi even refusing to take part in a debate with Marzouki, claiming his opponent is an “extremist.”
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