Despite Compressed Election Period, Carter Center Reports Organized, Effective Presidential Election in Tunisia

(Read the preliminary statement)

(En français)


TUNIS (Sept. 17, 2019) — The Carter Center today released a preliminary statement about Tunisia’s Sept. 15 presidential election, which provided Tunisia with an opportunity to reinvigorate the country’s political transition, strengthen its democratic culture, and refocus on reforms that will improve the lives of its citizens. 

Despite efforts by the country’s independent election management body, known by its French acronym ISIE, to facilitate greater voter participation, turnout was reported as 45.02 percent, a disappointing drop that reflects Tunisians’ disillusionment with the country’s current political make-up and economic trajectory. Still, citizens should be proud that the election offered a broad array of candidates and that the ISIE successfully implemented the polls despite a condensed 90-day timeframe necessitated by the death of President Beji Caïd Essebsi in July.

The Carter Center’s 90-plus observation mission was led by Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, and Tana de Zulueta, a former Italian parliamentarian. The observer team, which included citizens from more than 30 countries, visited 317 polling stations and all 27 tally centers in Tunisia on election day. Observers reported only minor irregularities in a limited number of the polling stations visited. Most problems related to giving voters insufficient instructions on how to cast a ballot.

Today's statement from The Carter Center provides a preliminary assessment, the key findings of which are outlined below. Several key aspects of the electoral process have yet to be completed, including tabulation, announcement of final results, and the resolution of any complaints or challenges. The Center will provide further assessments once the electoral process is concluded.

Pre-Election Period

In June, parliament passed amendments to the electoral law that would have limited the fundamental right of citizens to stand in the election – most notably by effectively barring owners of media outlets and charitable organizations from running for office. President Essebsi refused to promulgate the law.

His sudden death dramatically altered the contest for president, significantly shortening the electoral timeline and increasing pressure on all stakeholders to meet new deadlines. Tunisia’s constitution requires that a new president be sworn in within 90 days of the installation of the interim president. While parliament passed electoral amendments to shorten the complaints and appeals process, the new timeline still does not guarantee that Tunisia can meet the constitutional deadlines should there be a runoff.

In late August, authorities detained candidate Nabil Karoui, who had been leading opinion polls in mid-July and was a presumed target of the failed parliamentary amendments, on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. His ongoing detention raises the perception that he was arrested for political reasons and casts a cloud over the process. In addition, it is unclear how his detention will affect his participation in the rest of the electoral process.

Key Conclusions

Legal framework: Certain areas of the legal framework could be improved, including by establishing definitive and adequate timeframes for the different stages of the electoral process. Campaign provisions, including those on the use of advertising and posters, are restrictive and difficult for candidates to fully respect, thus encouraging their violation.

Election administration: Although vacancies in staffing, particularly in the legal and training departments, pose challenges, the ISIE conducted the elections efficiently within a compressed timeline. It failed, however, to manage its public communications in a consistent manner, and commissioners sometimes made contradictory statements.

Candidate registration: ISIE staff implemented the registration procedures in a professional and timely manner. Ninety-seven candidates applied; 26 were approved and 71 rejected, some for using fraudulent endorsements. The ISIE was not fully transparent in releasing details about its reasons for rejecting candidates. It published the final candidate list on Aug. 31, two days before the electoral campaign began.

Voter education: The ISIE launched a voter-education campaign specifically focused on the presidential elections two weeks prior to the polls. Civil society organizations (CSOs) reported that they lacked funds to conduct a comprehensive voter-education campaign leading up to election day. CSOs have in general received less funding for election-related activities such as voter education and election observation. The early presidential elections affected their ability to obtain additional funds.

Campaign environment: Carter Center long-term observers reported that a positive atmosphere existed between the main political parties in different regions of the country, even when they were holding campaign events on the same day in the same area. No major security incidents were reported. In a new development for the country and the region, candidates participated in live television debates, which were viewed by nearly half of the country’s registered voters and televised across the Arab region.

The campaign started slowly but intensified in the second week, as candidates held rallies, used campaign tents and billboards, distributed leaflets, and went door-to-door. Candidates also made great use of social media networks (mainly Facebook), especially for campaign advertisements.

Campaign finance: Public funding is distributed equitably among candidates based on the number of voters at the national level. Although the campaign spending ceiling was increased after the 2014 elections, stakeholders still considered it too low, which encouraged candidates to exceed the ceiling and to not fully report expenditures.

Electoral dispute resolution: Despite the shortened timelines provided in Article 49 of the electoral law, the administrative tribunal was able to address all pre-election complaints and appeals in a timely fashion. However, both the judiciary and the litigants said the time constraints threaten the right to seek redress and judicial review. The tribunal demonstrated impartiality and respect for due process in its decisions but failed to publicly release details about complaints and decisions.

Social media monitoring: To date, there is no specific legal framework for online media. Two-thirds of Tunisians are active social media users, and Facebook is widely used. Most candidates used Facebook for targeted paid advertising, with some candidates running up to a dozen ads per day from their verified pages. On the eve of the election, The Carter Center observed paid ads supporting a number of candidates running on their verified Facebook pages, as well as on pages with unclear affiliations, in breach of the campaign silence period. 


The Carter Center was accredited by the ISIE to observe the elections and deployed more than 90 observers who visited 317 unique polling stations as well as the 27 tabulation centers.

It has had a presence in Tunisia since 2011. It observed the 2011 National Constituent Assembly elections and the 2014 presidential and legislative elections, as well as the constitution-making process that culminated in the adoption of the constitution in January 2014.

For these elections, The Carter Center deployed a core team in May 2019. In mid-July, the Center – in collaboration with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa – deployed 16 long- term observers. The core team and long-term observers represent 18 different countries.

The Center will remain in Tunisia to observe the final tabulation process and the resolution of electoral complaints. An observation mission will also be sent for the legislative elections, and, if necessary, a runoff election in October. The objective of the Center’s observation mission is to provide an impartial assessment of the overall quality of the electoral process, promote an inclusive process for all Tunisians, and demonstrate support for its democratic transition.

The Carter Center assesses Tunisia’s electoral process against the Tunisian constitution, the domestic electoral legal framework, and obligations derived from international treaties and international election standards. The Center's observation mission is conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation.

The Center wishes to thank Tunisian officials, political party members, civil society members, individuals, and representatives of the international community who have generously offered their time and energy to facilitate the Center’s efforts to observe the presidential election process.

Contact : Soyia Ellison,
Don Bisson +216 21 76 82 08 or


En dépit d’une période électorale comprimée, le Centre Carter rapporte l'élection présidentielle en Tunisie : organisée et efficace >

Déclaration préliminaire du Centre Carter Election présidentielle en Tunisie >

بالرغم من  ضغط الآجال الانتخابيّة المختصرة، يعلن مركز كارتر عن سير الانتخابات الرئاسيّة في تونس بشكل منظّم وفعّال

البيان يلاألو ملركز كارتر حول االنتخاابت الرائسية يف تونس


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A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.