The early signs that Tunisia is preparing itself for a major political reset are already there as two rappers – both who hold EU passports – enter the race, at least via a media storm which has generated a huge debate by Tunisians as to how they want their country to be governed post Saied
A recent opinion poll conducted by Sigma Conseil has sparked widespread controversy in Tunisia when it revealed major surprises in Tunisian voting intentions ahead of the presidential election scheduled for next year.
The results of the poll announced on Saturday during a news conference showed the rise of controversial rapper, Karim Gharbi, alias K2rhym to be the third most popular candidate among voters for the presidential poll.
In an apparent major switch in voter intentions, K2rhym obtained 5.9 percent but came after President Kais Saied, who still enjoys the trust of Tunisians, with 49.9 percent support. Political activist Safi Saeed came second with 10.3 percent, while the head of the Free Doustourian Party (PDL), Abir Moussi, ranked fourth with 4.6 percent.
The news of the emergence of K2rhym as a potential candidate for the presidency sparked a heated debate on social media. It came as a shock to many, who considered that the inclusion of his name in the opinion poll to be a deliberate attempt to sway the public opinion, disrupt political life and threaten the democratic process.
K2rhym has not announced his intention to run for president but many in the country concede that his popularity has increased substantially with the expansion of his philanthropic activities.
In reaction to the poll results, PDL’s leader Abir Moussi staged a sit-in in front of the hotel where Sigma presented its findings to the media.
During the sit-in, Moussi denounced the manipulations carried out by Hassan Zargouni and Sigma Conseil and accused Sigma Conseil of bias. She pointed out that the so-called marketing, media and opinion agency is part of a complex network established all over the world.
Moussi accused Zargouni of being financially supported by foreign lobbies and of serving the interests of certain unnamed parties, by manipulating opinion polls results to influence the Tunisian electorate.
Moussi added that Zargouni is linked with Konrad-Adenauer, the German organisation that has been lobbying state institutions in Tunisia.
According to the PDL’s leader, Zargouni should have no credibility because he is but a pawn of American, European, French, German and Arab Gulf forces.
K2rhym, a former son-in-law of late President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, is viewed as one of the richest people in Tunisia, but with many questions persisting on the source of his wealth.
In recent years, K2rhym has been involved in charitable activities. However, his moves raised concerns over the possible exploitation of vulnerable people and social categories to achieve political ambitions.
Activist Imad Hammami said that K2rhym’s possible entry into the presidential race would not come as a surprise, after his so-called philanthropic campaigns targeted deprived Tunisians and exploited the absence of the state in marginalised regions.
This is the same populist approach adopted by Nabil Karoui, a former media mogul, who managed to reach the second round of the last presidential elections in 2019.
Hammami questioned the credibility of the opinion poll and said that it was “an attempt to test the political tendencies and positions of Tunisians a year before the elections. The aim is to influence voters.”
The issue of opinion polls and the private agencies that conduct them is a regular source of dispute in Tunisia, as several parties accuse the pollsters of fraud, inaccuracy and manipulation.
The controversy of the rappers’ attempt to forge into politics does not end with K2rhym’s emergence as a potential presidential candidate.
Tunisian rapper Swagg Man has recently announced his intention to run for the upcoming presidential elections, becoming an object of ridicule among activists on social media.
Iteb Zaibet, better known as his stage name Swagg Man, recently added a post on his official Facebook page, in which he said, “I am honoured to present myself as a candidate for the 2024 presidential elections.”
The rapper, who holds French nationality, continued, “Long live Tunisia! Tunisia will be better with Swagg Man.”
Swagg Man’s candidacy for the 2024 election sparked a wide range of reactions on social media.
In 2015, Tunisians first became acquainted with the rapper via a number of television programmes. Swagg Man, who has always bragged about his wealth, became quite famous due to the large number of tattoos that cover the whole his body.
In a television interview, he once said that the value of his wealth amounted to 500 million Tunisian dinars (some $190 million).
The value of the jewellery he wears was estimated at about two million Tunisian dinars (about $700,000s).
The display of riches and possessions sparked a wave of calls to investigate the source of the rapper’s wealth.
Swagg Man was imprisoned on charges of money-laundering, and was initially sentenced to five years, before successfully appealing the verdict and being acquitted.
The Tunisian constitution stipulates that “Every male and female voter who holds Tunisian nationality since birth, whose religion is Islam shall have the right to stand for election to the position of President of the Republic. On the day of filing the application for candidacy, the candidate must be at least 35 years old. If the candidate has a nationality other than the Tunisian nationality, he or she must submit an application committing to abandon the other nationality if elected president.”
Swagg Man holds both Tunisian and French nationalities and he was born to a Tunisian mother and a Brazilian father, so his move amounts to nothing more than media hype or ignorance of the law, according to observers.
Tunisia has been in the throes of a deep political crisis that aggravated the country’s economic conditions since 2021, when Saied ousted the government and dissolved parliament.