88 year-old Essebsi confirmed winner of Tunisia's poll

88 year-old Essebsi confirmed winner of Tunisia's poll

Monday, December 22, 2014 8:05 pm

Anti-Islamist politician Beji Caid Essebsi won Tunisia’s presidential election with 55.68 percent of the vote, beating incumbent Moncef Marzouki, the electoral commission said on Monday.

Essebsi, an 88-year-old veteran of previous governments, becomes the first president freely elected by Tunisians since independence from France in 1956.

A former prime minister, he clinched 1.7 million of votes cast against Marzouki’s more than 1.3 million in Sunday’s runoff, electoral commission chief Chafik Sarsar told a news conference.

 Beji Caid Essebsi : confirmed the winner

Beji Caid Essebsi : confirmed the winner

Turnout in the second round was 60.1 percent, he added.

The election is seen as a landmark for democracy in the North African nation where the Arab Spring was born, and set Tunisia apart from its neighbours where turmoil persists despite popular uprisings that toppled veteran dictators.

The first round on November 23 saw Essebsi take 39 percent, six percentage points ahead of 69-year-old former rights activist Marzouki, who was installed by parliament two months after December 2011 polls.

The campaign was marked by mudslinging, with Essebsi refusing to debate with Marzouki, calling his opponent an “extremist”.

Supporters of Essebsi rejoice

Supporters of Essebsi rejoice

Essebsi insists that Marzouki represents Islamists, charging that they had “ruined” the country since the 2011 revolution which toppled veteran ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring.

Marzouki in turn accused Essebsi, a senior official under previous regimes, of wanting to restore the old guard deposed in the revolution.

Essebsi’s election was promptly welcomed by the European Union.

The EU called the election a “historic” milestone on the country’s path to democracy.

“Tunisians have written a historic page in the country’s democratic transition,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement, adding that the 28-member bloc was committed to working with the new Tunisian authorities.

Mogherini lauded the landmark vote in the birth place of the Arab Spring, praising the Tunisian people who “sent a message of hope to all the people who, like them, aspire to a future that’s more peaceful, democratic and prosperous”.

Noting that the EU had sent an observer mission to monitor the election, she said the team would “continue its work in Tunisia and observe every step of the electoral process until its completion”.

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