Tunisians vote for new president

Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of Tunisia's secular Nidaa Tounes party and a presidential candidate, casts his vote at a polling station in Tunis. (Reuters)

Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of Tunisia's secular Nidaa Tounes party and a presidential candidate, casts his vote at a polling station in Tunis. (Reuters)

Tunisians are voting on Sunday in presidential elections, the country’s first such polls since the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the 2011 uprising.

In the first hour of balloting, the voter turnout was not as strong as that of the parliamentary election held last month.

The voters on Sunday said they were enthusiastic about participating in the election contested by a record 27 candidates.

“It is the first time that I vote for a president,” said a veiled female voter named Hajer. “I don’t want someone in this position who was with Ben Ali in the past. I prefer a president who used to be a revolutionary.”

Hajer, who cast her ballot in Tunis, said she voted for incumbent and frontrunner Moncef Marzouki.

His rival Beji Caid Essibsi, another favorite, voted at a school in the Tunis district of La Soukra.

He greeted his backers as they chanted, “Long Live Tunisia,” the slogan of his campaign.

Essibsi served in several high-ranking positions under the founder of independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, and his successor Ben Ali.

‘Now we have a choice’
“I voted during the time of Ben Ali, but this election is very different,” Sauda, another female voter, said at a polling station in Tunis. “Now we have a choice,” Sauda said as she had voted for Essibsi, whose secularist party, Nidaa Tounes, led October’s legislative polls. 

About 90 000 members of the security forces have been deployed around the polling stations to prevent potential attacks by Islamist insurgents. Voting in volatile provinces near the border with Algeria started two hours behind schedule.

“This delay is due to security reasons as these areas are the front lines in confrontation with terrorist elements holding themselves up in mountains along the western border,” the election commission said.

Polling stations in these areas opened at 10am while the voting in other parts of Tunisia started at 8am as scheduled, according to the commission. Tunisia has temporarily closed its border with its troubled neighbour Libya. About 5.2-million Tunisians are eligible to vote at about 11 000 polling stations.

Polls are to close at 6pm. Preliminary official results are expected by Tuesday. If no presidential candidate obtains an outright majority, a run-off between the top two contenders will be held December 28.

Both the legislative and presidential polls complete the democratisation process in Tunisia, the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. 

The North African country is widely seen as the sole success story of the Arab revolutionary movements. Revolts in Libya, Syria and Yemen have all led to varying degrees of ongoing conflict, and Egypt saw its increasingly unpopular Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, elected in 2012, deposed by the army last year. – Sapa



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