Tunisia held its first free presidential election on Sunday, taking another step forward in its transition to democracy as voters hoped for greater stability and a better economy. Many Tunisians weighed security concerns against the freedoms brought by their revolution and by its democratic reforms, which have remained on track in sharp contrast to the upheavals brought by the Arab Spring elsewhere in the region, including the military coup in Egypt and the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya. It has not been easy for Tunisia, however, and the nearly four years since the revolution have been marked by social unrest, terrorist attacks and high inflation that pushed voters into punishing the moderate Islamists in last month’s parliamentary elections. “The thing I’m worried most about for the future is terrorism. Right now, we don’t know who’s coming into the country, and this is a problem,” said Amira Judei, 21, who voted in the southern city of Kasserine, near the border with Algeria and a point of terrorist attacks. Tunisia’s revolution began in areas such as Kasserine in the impoverished south. Voting hours in the rural regions along the border were reduced to five hours due to security fears.
But Ms Judei insisted that “the most important priority is unemployment”. The country’s 15 per cent unemployment rate nearly doubles when it comes to young people.
Of the nearly two dozen candidates for the presidency, the one that most Tunisians feel can deliver on the twin issues of jobs and security is Beji Caid Sebsi, an 87-year-old former minister from the previous administrations who many are hoping will get the country back on track.
“He is a veteran politician with experience that can ensure security and stability,” said Mouldi Cherni, a middle age driver living in Tunis’ Carthage suburb who voted for Mr Caid Sebsi. “The people are tired, life has grown expensive and Tunisians don’t even have enough to make an ojja,” he said, referring to the local omelet favoured by the poor.