TUNISIA

Fifth term a foregone conclusion for incumbent leader Ben Ali

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is running in Tunisia's presidential election for a record fifth time. Despite criticism of his authoritarian rule, the 73-year-old ruler is set for another comfortable victory.

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Having served as president of Tunisia for more than two decades, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, 73, is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

As the country prepares for presidential and legislative elections on Sunday, the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion. Ben Ali is set secure a record fifth mandate at the head of this north African country of 10 million.

Ben Ali rose to prominence under his predecessor, former President Habib Bourguiba, proving particularly adept at silencing political opponents. In 1987, he was appointed prime minister, a position that made him the next in line for the presidency.

It was only a matter of weeks beforehe moved in to the presidential palace, after arranging for a doctor to declare Bourguiba senile and unfit to rule. Ben Ali was 51 at the time.

In 1989, he stood unopposed in a presidential election and secured a first five-year term. He was then re-elected five years later, once again without opposition.

In 2002, Ben Ali abolished a constitutional limit on presidential terms and organised a referendum to change the constitution and raise the maximum age for a presidential candidate to 75, thereby allowing him to stand in this year's election.

The former military officer claimed a whopping 99.66% of the vote in 1999 and 94.48% of all ballots cast in the last election, in 2004.

An ally of the West

A staunch ally of the West, Ben Ali has earned praised in Europe and in the United States for his help in tracking down radical Islamists operating both at home and abroad.

The Tunisian president has also been credited with ensuring the country’s stability and fostering sustained economic growth.

This has long helped him elude accusations of authoritarianism and restrictions on public liberties. Though he has promised to expand democracy, the country's press remains tightly controlled, members of the opposition are still imprisoned and electoral contests are hardly contested at all.

The aging ruler has also failed to deliver on his pledge to reduce the country's unemployment rate, currently at 14% of the workforce.

While his victory on Sunday is not in doubt, Ben Ali is unlikely to seek a sixth mandate in five years' time - that is, unless he opts to change the constitution once more.

 

 

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