Seven million Tunisians are expected to vote in the 15 September presidential elections, which were brought forward from November following Essebsi's death in July.
The vote is the second time Tunisians will participate in democratic presidential elections since the 2011 overthrow of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Campaigning officially began on Monday and, unlike the first vote in 2014, this round is marked by uncertainty.
“The election this time is much more open and no one can say for sure who will be the winner,” says political analyst Taoufik Djebali, comparing the situation with 2014, where the winner clearly emerged months before elections took place.
Fragmented political landscape
According to the analyst, the centre - or the modernists, as they are also referred to in Tunisia - are too divided and he fears that it might adversely affect their chances.
“The left – and the centre especially – are highly fragmented this time. This is the illness of the left and centre in Tunisia,” he adds.
Djebali doesn’t think the number of candidates accounts for this state of affairs, as in the previous vote there were 27 candidates.
“In 2014, Beji Caid Essebsi was able to lead the pack and move forward as the only candidate of the centre and unite everybody behind him. This is not the case this time,” says Djebali.
On the other hand, “the Islamists are much more united, much more indoctrinated and are much more disciplined”.
Islamist on the list
For the first time, the Islamist Ennahda party has fielded a candidate, Abdel Fattah Mourou, interim speaker of parliament and vice-president of the party.
Djebali fears that an Islamist president will create more division in the country – but quickly adds that he seriously doubts Tunisians will elect an Islamist candidate.
He says Ennahda has weakened and its candidate does not even have the support of the party as a whole.
“Mourou has a problem within his own party. He has a problem with Tunisians. Many people have a very bad image of him even though he tries to give an image of open-mindedness and modernity,” remarks Djebali.
“People have never forgotten his contacts with the radicals coming from the Middle East and Egypt, talking about how to Islamise Tunisia.
“If Mourou wins the elections, that will be a political surprise and a major cause for division in the country,” Djebali says.
There are around 1.2 million Tunisians living outside the country and more than 700,000 of them are in France. Many of them also have French nationality – as is the case with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
The candidate of the ruling Nidaa Tounes party launched his overseas campaign on Saturday 31 August from the French city of Lyon.
“It is more of a symbolic move from Chahed. Every candidate has to promise something to Tunisians from abroad as they contribute much to Tunisia’s economy and future. They also have a very important stake in its politics,” comments Djebali.
But the analyst doesn’t believe that the diaspora will play a defining role in the elections.
If there is no clear majority on 15 September, as is expected, a second round of voting is to take place in November, after the October parliamentary elections.