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Tunisian president in landslide election victory

Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has won a fifth term in office by a massive margin, near-complete results from the North African country’s presidential election showed on Monday.

Vote tallies from 20 of Tunisia’s 26 regions showed that in two regions Ben Ali won 99% of the vote, and in the rest his support did not dip below 84%, according to figures from the Interior Ministry, which oversaw Sunday’s election.

Ben Ali has been in power for 22 years.

The 73-year-old has established Tunisia as a moderate voice in the Arab world and Western governments view the country as a bulwark against Islamist extremism — though some have raised questions about its record on democracy.

Tunisia’s most prominent opposition figures did not take part in the election. Two of Ben Ali’s challengers on the ballot rarely criticise the president and the third acknowledged during the campaign that he could not win.

International human rights groups have alleged that campaigning took place in an atmosphere of repression. Ben Ali hit back hours before polling stations opened, saying the vote would be democratic and accusing his opponents of peddling lies.

Many voters in Sunday’s election said the president deserved another term because he had made Tunisia into one of the region’s most stable and prosperous countries.

”He is the saviour of our country,” said 50-year-old Nejia Azouzi as she voted for Ben Ali in the capital, Tunis, on Sunday. Ben Ali won 86% of the vote in the city, according to the Interior Ministry figures.

The ministry was to announce the final, nationwide result later on Monday. Results were also expected for a parliamentary election held in parallel with the presidential vote.

The Tunisian president came to power in 1987 when doctors declared his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, unfit to rule after more than 30 years in power. Ben Ali won the last election, in 2004, with 94,4% of the vote.

Official figures showed a high turnout on Sunday, but with most Tunisians in little doubt about the outcome of the vote, enthusiasm was muted.

”What is the point in taking part?” said one young man in a cafe in Tunis, who asked not to be identified. ”Everything that is happening is just a show.”

Tunisia is expected to apply to the European Union next year for ”advanced status” — which could give it preferential trade terms and boost its international standing. It does not want criticism over the election to affect its bid. – Reuters

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