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Tunisia Airs First 'Great Debate' Ahead of Presidential Poll

Tunisia Airs First 'Great Debate' Ahead of Presidential Poll

Sunday, 8 September, 2019 - 10:30
A man looks election posters of presidential candidates in Tunis, Tunisia September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Days before the first round of Tunisia's presidential election, the fledgling democracy is holding three nights of televised debates between the candidates, a rare event in the Arab world.

The showdown between the 26 hopefuls, which started on Saturday, is seen as the highlight of the campaign and a turning point in Tunisian politics that kindles the Arab Spring in 2011.

Some parties have been working since weeks on mobilizing the audio-visual and public-private media in addition to a non-government organization specialized in managing political dialogue.

Called "The road to Carthage: Tunisia makes its choice", the programs will be broadcast on 11 TV channels, two of them public, and some 20 radio stations.

"We won't be able to escape it," said a smiling Belabbes Benkredda, founder of the Munathara Initiative which promotes open debate in the Arab world and helped organize the event.

The first hour-and-a-half debate on Saturday night included several "heavyweight" candidates, like Abdel Fattah Moro, Moncef Marzouki, Mehdi Juma and Abeer Moussa.

The debates are held at the Tunisian National Television headquarters, where the candidates sit in the form of a half circle on seats chosen by a draw. In the middle sits two journalists who manage the dialogue.

The questions were set by the journalists and will be randomly selected and allocated to candidates on Friday. Each candidate will have 90 seconds to respond to a question and can be asked a follow-up question or interrupted.

At the end of the show, candidates will have 99 seconds to outline their manifestos and campaign promises.

"We are going to be extremely strict on time. It's the rule of the game, you are in front of the people and you each have the same amount of time to convince them", said Lassad Khedder, head of a private TV channel syndicate in Tunisia, who expects "very rich and heated debates".

"Often in the Arab world, when we speak of competition we know who wins at the end, with 99.99 percent. Today, we don't know who is going to win", Khedder added.

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