Supporters of the Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) secular party movement wave flags and shout slogans in Tunis December 21, 2014. (Reuters)
Tunisian veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi wins presidential election with 55.68 percent versus 44.32 percent for his rival Moncef Marzouki, Monday’s - electoral results showed.
The election of Beji Caid Essebsi, whose party dominated legislative elections back in October, completes Tunisia’s democratic transition after the overthrow of its dictator in 2011.
Voting was largely pronounced free and fair with a participation rate of 60 percent, less than the nearly 70 percent in the previous round and legislative elections, the Associated Press reported.
After the results, Marzouki congratulated Essebsi.
“Dr Moncef Marzouki has congratulated Mr Beji Caid Essebsi for his victory in the presidential election,” Marzouki’s campaign manager, Adnene Mancer, wrote on his official Facebook page.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also congratulated Essebsi for winning the presidency.
Earlier, Essebsi's campaign team said initial indications showed he had won Sunday's run-off election by a clear margin over Marzouki, in an announcement that was contested by the rival campaign team of the incumbent president.
Preliminary official results have still to be released by election authorities. But his campaign manager Mohsen Marzouk said "indications" showed Essebsi had won the first free presidential election since the country's 2011 uprising.
He gave no details, but Tunisian parties often have observers at polling stations to observe preliminary counting.
But Marzouki’s campaign said the announcement was baseless.
Polls opened Sunday in the second round of Tunisia's first free presidential election, in the final leg of an at times bumpy four-year transition from dictatorship.
The voting was mired by violence early in the day when Tunisian troops killed a gunman and captured three others after they attacked soldiers guarding ballot papers for the country's presidential vote, the defense ministry said.
The pre-dawn attack targeted a school in the central region of Kairouan where the ballot papers had been stored under army guard.
"The vigilance of the soldiers and the swiftness of their response thwarted this operation and led to the death of a man armed with a hunting rifle and the arrest of three suspects," ministry spokesman Belhassan Oueslati told AFP.
The runoff pits 88-year-old favourite Essebsi, leader of the anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party, against Marzouki, who held the post through an alliance with the moderate Islamist movement Ennahda.
Resultsof the polls are expected to be announced early next week.
With a new progressive constitution and a full parliament elected in October, Tunisia is hailed as an example of democratic change for a region still struggling with the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.
The nation has mostly avoided the post-revolt divisions troubling Libya and Egypt, but Sunday’s election has emerged as a race between a former Ben Ali official and the incumbent who claims to defend the legacy of the 2011 revolution.
Essebsi, a former parliament speaker under Ben Ali, won 39 percent of votes in the first round in November with current president Moncef Marzouki taking 33 percent of the ballots.
Essebsi, 88, dismisses critics who say he would mark a return of the old regime stalwarts. He says he is the technocrat Tunisia needs after three messy years of the Islamist-led coalition government that followed the revolt.
Marzouki, a former activist during the Ben Ali era, has painted an Essebsi presidency as a setback for the “Jasmine Revolution” that forced the former leader to flee the country into exile. But many critics tie Marzouki’s own presidency to the Islamist party’s government and its mistakes.
“We are going to get back to life now with Essebsi, and forget the disaster of the last three years of Marzouki and the Islamists,” said Fathia Ben Saleh, at an Essebsi rally in Tunis. “We don’t have any worries about democracy with Essebsi.”
Compromise has been key in Tunisian politics. Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party managed to reach a deal with Islamist Ennahda to overcome a crisis triggered by the murder of two secular leaders last year.
Ennahda eventually stepped down at the start of this year to make way for a technocrat transitional cabinet until elections. But the Islamists remain a powerful force after winning the second largest number of seats in the new parliament.
The presidency post holds only limited powers over national defense and foreign policy. In Tunisia, the parliament, led by Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes party who won the most seats, will be key to selecting a new prime minister to lead the government.
Ennahda and the leftwing Popular Front movement - both well-organized and supported -- would be powerful opponents.
Tunisia’s new government must still tackle the threat of Islamist militants, and also potentially politically sensitive economic reforms in a country where many are still more concerned over jobs and the high cost of living.
“I won’t vote for Essebsi or Marzouki. The first was never a democrat and we know his past,” said Imed Jouini, a unemployed man at a Tunis cafe watching campaigning. “The second doesn’t know how to do anything except bury police who were killed by terrorists.”
Last Update: Monday, 22 December 2014 KSA 19:21 - GMT 16:21