Ex-Regime Official Wins Tunisia Presidential Vote

Ex-Regime Official Wins Tunisia Presidential Vote
Ex-Regime Official Wins Tunisia Presidential Vote

Former minister from Tunisia’s years under dictatorship Beji Caid Essebsi has won the country’s election in the first presidential vote after an uprising that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

The 88-year-old Essebsi beat rival Moncef Marzouki, the caretaker president, with 55.68 percent of the vote against 44.32 percent in Sunday’s run-off ballot between the two men, according to results released on Monday by electoral authorities, Reuters reported.

Essebsi once served as Ben Ali’s speaker of parliament and before that was both foreign and interior minister for his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba.

Both candidates called for calm after rioting briefly broke out in several southern towns in protest over the return of an old guard figure, and witnesses said an office of Essebsi’s secular Nidaa Tounes party was set alight in one town.

A former parliament speaker under Ben Ali, Essebsi recast himself as an experienced technocrat. “I will be president for all Tunisians,” Essebsi said in a brief speech on state television.

Outside the Nidaa Tounes headquarters in the capital Tunis, several hundred jubilant supporters took to the streets to celebrate with flares and music, waving Tunisia’s red and white national flag and honking car horns.

In a short television address Marzouki, a 67-year-old human rights activist, accepted his defeat despite what he said were suspected vote irregularities, which he would not challenge.

Just after results were announced, protesters set fire to a Nidaa Tounes party office in Tataouine in southern Tunisia, witnesses said. Residents said rioting broke out in several southern towns, including Hamma, where police firing teargas to disperse hundreds of youths who burned tires to demonstrate.

  Setback for 2011 Revolution

Critics of Essebsi, who has spent five decades in Tunisian politics, see his return as a setback for the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and put the North African country on the road to full democracy, with a new constitution and free parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Tunisian uprising also inspired the Arab Spring revolts across North Africa and the Middle East.

As frontrunner, Essebsi dismissed critics who said victory for him would mark a return of the old guard. He distanced himself from the corruption and abuses of Ben Ali’s era.

Marzouki, who had sought refuge in France during the Ben Ali era, painted a potential Essebsi presidency as a reverse for the “Jasmine Revolution” that forced the former autocrat to flee into exile.

Victory for Essebsi consolidates his secular Nidaa Tounes party’s position after it won the most seats in October’s parliamentary election, beating out Ennahda party.

Ennahda holds the second largest number of seats in congress and it and leftist Popular Front movement are still strong movements that will prove tough opponents in negotiations over policy in parliament.

Essebsi’s party will now have to decide on a prime minister and form a new government in coalition with smaller parties in the parliament before tackling politically sensitive economic reforms.