Tunisians choose a secular president, Essebsi wins

With 55.5% according to latest exit poll. Turnout at 59.04%

22 December, 11:29

    Supporters of the Presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi shout slogans celebrate the first results of the Tunisian elections in Sousse Supporters of the Presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi shout slogans celebrate the first results of the Tunisian elections in Sousse

    (ANSAmed) - TUNIS - Beji Caid Essebsi, elederly leader ot the first Tunisian party, the secular Nidaa Tounes, is set to become the new Tunisian president, the first head of state after the fall of Ben Ali four years ago. Confirming predictions on the eve of the elections, Essebsi won over the current caretaker president Moncef Marzouki, supported by islamists, with a comfortable margin according to the latest exit poll (55.5% according to Sigma Conseil, against 45.5 secured by Marzouki).

    Despite the fact that a protest gathering in favour of Marzouki was dispersed by the police with teargas in the town of El Hamma, on the whole polling day proved relatively calm, marking the end of the transition process in Tunisia, the country where the Arab Spring was born and, probably, the only in which a truly democratic outcome came about. While official results are expected to be announced this evening, Marzouki, so far, has not only refused to concede defeat but has also made vote-rigging allegations.

    The only official results at the moment are the ones relating to turnout, which according to Tunisia's Independent High Authority for Elections (Isie) stands at 59.04%.

    Essebsi, a lawyers and veteran Tunisian politician, will become the highest public official in Tunisia after a long career, at the age of 88. He held various significant government posts under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba, the "father" of Tunisian independence (he was minister of the Interior, of Foreign Affairs, of Defence). Tireless defender of the rule of law, Essebsi considers himself an heir of Bourghiba's politics and values. After an absence from politics in the '90s, he returned to the fold on February 27 2011 when he was nominated prime minister in the second post-revolutionary caretaker government.
    On April 20 2012 he founded the centrist Nidaa Tounes party as a counterforce to the governmental troika formed by Islamist Ennhadha, Cpr (Congress for the Repubblic) and Ettakattol.

    Marzouki probably paid the price of a political campaign based more on the demonisation of his rival than on his political programme, failing to convey the revolutionary values he so wished to uphold against an adversary he regards as an embodiment of the previous regime. Ennhadha's popular vote was not sufficient to bridge the six points separating him from Essebsi while party leaders refused to field a candidate for the second time running. With Sunday's vote, Tunisians confirmed the political leaning expressed at the ballot box in October with the defeat of islamist Ennhadha and victory for secular Nidaa Tounes, when Ennhadha suffered the consequences of three years of poor goverment, rising prices, corruption and instability.

    Some pundits view Essebsi's anticipated victory as a risky institutional monopoly with Nidaa Tounes holding the posts of President of the Republic, Premier and head of Parliament, but even Ennhadha's leader Rached Ghannouchi, has acknowledged his intention to modernize the country and stand as a political guarantor for the political future of islamists. Tunisia finally appears to be fully governable. The last elections brought about a Parliament marked by strong bipolarism, giving Tunisia the image of a country willing to normalize its political life amid the challenges posed by the financial crisis and the threat of islamic terrorism. There is a feeling that with the election of a President of the Republic who will uphold the constitution on behalf of all Tunisians and will ground his authority on true consensus, Tunisia has finally turned a new chapter of its recent history and completed an irreversable process. An outcome that should reassure investors and make them believe in Tunisia again. (ANSAmed).

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