TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A jailed media magnate is among the 26 candidates authorized Saturday to run in Tunisia’s presidential election next month, a crucial test for the North African country’s fragile young democracy.
The Tunisian election authority announced the list of candidates who qualified for the Sept. 15 first round of voting. The top vote-getters advance to a second round two weeks later.
Businessman Nabil Karoui was allowed to maintain his candidacy while in custody on accusations of money laundering and tax evasion. Karoui and another candidate accused of money laundering can run for president as long as they haven’t been convicted, the electoral authority said.
“The fact that the candidate Nabil Karoui is in jail is a concern, but the electoral authority does not interfere in court cases, but at the same time strives to ensure the candidates all their rights,” electoral commission president Nabil Baffoun told reporters.
Before his arrest, Karoui was considered a leading contender to replace centrist Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s first democratically elected president. He died in office in July at age 92, throwing the country’s politics into uncertainty.
Other top candidates include Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and Defense Minister Abdelkrim Zbidi. Two women are on the list , hoping to persuade voters to choose a female president for the country with some of the Arab world’s most wide-reaching women’s rights.
Campaigning officially begins Monday.
Tunisian protesters unleashed the 2011 Arab Spring uprising in several countries, overthrowing a longtime dictator and ushering in a new democracy seen as a model for the region. However, Tunisia’s leaders since then have failed to solve economic problems that drove the revolution or prevent deadly Islamic extremist attacks.