Tunisians have always known Bahri Jelassi, leader of the Openness and Loyalty party after the 2011 revolution, for his infamous ideas – like his calls for polygamy and his support for the marriage of underage girls.

Tunisians have always known Bahri Jelassi, leader of the Openness and Loyalty party after the 2011 revolution, for his infamous ideas – like his calls for polygamy and his support for the marriage of underage girls. When he ran in the 2011 election, he made several impossible promises such as an undersea tunnel connecting Tunisia with Italy, a grant of 5,000 Tunisian dinars ($2,900) and a 400-metre parcel of land for anyone who wants to marry to build his house.

Many lawsuits were filed against him, including one filed by Sihem Badi, Minister for Women and Family Affairs, after his call for allowing the marriage of underage girls, while many political commentators dismissed him as an insignificant figure.

He certainly ruffles the general political climate. Jelassi, described by certain media outlets as a “quasi-political deviant,” said he would marginalize provinces that elect Hamma Hammami, official spokesman for the leftist alliance the Popular Front. He has also described secular people as infidels.

Despite all this, he intends to nominate himself in the legislative and presidential elections and claims he has a good chance of winning and entering Carthage Palace.

Correspondents met Bahri Jelassi.

You strongly criticized the new constitution, and yet you plan to nominate yourself in the elections in accordance with its provisions.

My thanks are to God, not to the Constitution, which contains a distorted article – I mean Chapter VI, which guarantees freedom of conscience and allows disbelief and atheism. It would have been better not to include this chapter because it stains us as Muslims and Arabs. By adding this chapter, the Ennahda Movement wanted to get closer to the US and to Israel and to show them its good will.

Tunisians are open-minded people who believe in democracy and the civil state. How are you going to govern the Tunisian people when you still hold the ideas and values of the seventh century?

The Halal (what is permitted) is clear and the Haram (what is not permitted) is clear. If I rule Tunisia the law of God will be applied. Those who want to drink spirits or go to night clubs, they are free to do so because this is personal freedom and I don’t interfere with it. I support the civil state, democracy, and human rights and I encourage science and modernity.

In the last election, you made fairy-tale promises like a parcel of land for each Tunisian, a tunnel to Italy, and you failed. Do you think Tunisians will vote for you in the next election?

I have abandoned these ideas.

Some people argue that your attitudes, such as your support for the marriage of underage girls and your criticism of the personal status law, which offers Tunisian women many rights, have excluded you from the political arena. Don’t you think that this will have an impact on your chances in these elections?

I did not call for the marriage of female minors. I said that the law should not interfere in the marriages of girls regardless of their age, 14 or older. And I said that it is better that the parents make the decision. Personally, I am against forced marriages. I support women’s rights and I want to protect them. I did not call on people not to educate their daughters, as claimed by some people. Whoever does so is ignorant and regressive.

Did you draft an electoral programme this time that could help you succeed and withstand the competition?

We have prepared a programme composed of 17 points, as we were asked to do. The programme stressed the importance of effective partnership with Malaysia and Indonesia and the advancement of industrialization because it will provide thousands of jobs.

We will build major factories for the production of cars to export them to neighboring countries, taking advantage of the strategic location of our country, and we will maintain our relationship with European countries. But we are going to review agreements that exploit us.

On the social level, we will completely cancel the Support Fund, which the state pumps with 6,000 billion dinars every year, and we will distribute this amount among five million poor and destitute Tunisians.

Do you think that with this programme – populist speeches on behalf of the poor – you will be able to confront and defeat your competitors?

I have no competitors. Even the Ennahda Movement, which won the majority of votes. No-one will vote for it except [Ennahda leader] Rashid Ghannouchi, his wife, his daughter, and his brother-in-law Rafik Bouchlaka.

You once announced that the businessman Mohammed Marzouki would be your candidate in the presidential election. Why did you change your mind?

I did not change my mind but Mohammed Marzouki has chosen to compete as an independent in the presidential elections. This man is supported by a large number of businessmen. He was once my candidate for the prime minister post, but the Ennahda Movement and the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) rejected my proposal and chose Mahdi Jumaa, as dictated by the West. I am sure that there is no salvation for Tunisia without the support of businessmen.

Why do you attack the Ennahda Movement whenever you speak about it?

The Ennahda Movement has destroyed the country and it did not achieve the demands of Tunisians who voted for it. It is a religious party, but it has proved that it is a colourless party. It is not a renaissance movement as its name indicates, but rather a reactionary movement.

If you become president will you hold a popular referendum on chapter six of the constitution in order to modify or cancel it?

It is a void constitution and when I win I will hold a popular referendum to cancel chapter six and amend some other chapters. But I will not close nightclubs or any other such places. I am not an extremist and I never called for the creation of a caliphate state as other parties are doing today.

You told Moncef Marzouki, the current president, to leave his post because you believe he has failed and said you wanted to replace him. You also said that if you fail after one year they could hang you. Will you keep your promise?

They should first test me to see if I am going to fulfill my promises. Just so you know, the timeframe has changed. One year is not enough.

How much time do you need?

(Laughs) Why do you persist? Do you want me to be hanged?

Talking of the gallows, what is your position on jihadists in Syria?  

The Syrian people have the right to overthrow the tyrant as we did with Ben Ali, but the Syrians themselves must struggle to do that. We should not export men for them to do the job. I am strongly against sending people to fight the Syrian people’s battle.

How can Tunisia act regarding the current situation in Libya?

I believe that the conditions in Libya are now much better than Tunisia. If I win in the presidential elections I will fully open the borders with this country – these borders that are keeping some two million Tunisians busy. I will let the guards and the armies return because they need us and we need them. I also believe that the reconstruction of the country should be made by our own hands – and should not be enjoyed by the US, France, or any other country.