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Beji Caid Essebsi Wins Tunisian Presidency
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 11:24:41 EST
Beji Caid Essebsi was elected president of Tunisia, with 55.7% percent of votes.
Beji Caid Essebsi was elected president of Tunisia, with 55.7% percent of votes. European Pressphoto Agency

TUNIS, Tunisia—Election authorities in Tunisia confirmed on Monday that 88-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi had won the nation’s first free presidential election, securing 55.68 % of votes against his rival, interim president Moncef Marzouki.

Mr. Marzouki took 44.32% of the vote, but won decisive majorities in many of the nation’s heartland regions where he remained popular, indicating Tunisians are still divided over the direction of their country, nearly four years after a popular revolt unseated longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Mr. Essebsi, who held several cabinet positions under Mr. Ben Ali and his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, had declared victory shortly after polls closed late on Sunday. He pledged to foster inclusive politics in an effort to quell fears that his political pedigree would revive authoritarian tendencies.

His party, Nida Tunis, now dominates Tunisia’s politics. In October parliamentary elections, Nida Tunis won a plurality of seats in parliament—upending the dominance of a moderate Islamist party that had controlled Tunisia’s early elections after Mr. Ben Ali’s fall.

Mr. Essebsi had created Nida Tunis, a loose grouping of liberals, leftists, old regime figures and business men, with the stated purpose of weakening the Islamist’s grip on power.

In presidential campaigning, he pledged to restore Tunisia’s “state prestige,” security and economic stability, leading to fears that he was seizing on wide public frustration over the pace of the democratic transition to reestablish the style of one party that defined the nation’s politics since it gained independence from France in 1956.

Mr. Marzouki, a human-rights activist and physician who resisted Mr. Ben Ali’s regime, was elected as interim president in 2011 by a constituent assembly dominated by the Islamist Ennahda Party.

He didn’t immediately concede on Monday. His campaign said late on Sunday that they had received reports of voting irregularities and would pursue legal challenges if the allegations were substantiated.

International and domestic monitoring groups said on Monday the vote was administered successfully and met international standards, and it didn’t note any widespread or major violations.

The groups said that voter participation had dipped to 59% from nearly 65% in the first round of the presidential election in November.

Minutes after the announcement by the electoral commission on Monday, handfuls of Tunisians lined the main boulevard in the capital, waving flags and chanting “Beji” as cars honked their horns in celebration.

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