Tunisia’s presidential elections head to run-off round

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Tunisians are expected to vote in a run-off round to choose the first elected president since the 2011 revolution toppled autocrat president Zine Al-Abdein Ben Ali.

The vote is set to take place during the last week of December, as no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the votes on Sunday.

Initial reports after counting two thirds of the votes, showed the secular party Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) leader, Beji Caid Essebsi, to have won 42 percent of the votes, in comparison to 34 percent by independent candidate Moncef Al-Marzouki.

Tunisia’s Election Committee reports stated that voter turnout in the presidential elections has exceeded 53 percent, after closing the polls on Sunday.

The committee is to announce the final result on Tuesday.

Tunisians went to vote in the country’s first presidential elections since the 2011 revolution that toppled former president Zine Al-Abdein Ben Ali’s regime, triggering a chain of uprisings across the Middle-East region.

The presidential elections follows a legislative poll held last October, which gave Tunisia’s secular party Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) the majority of seats against Islamist conservative Al-Nahda (Renaissance) party.

More than 25 candidates were running for the presidency, in which incumbent Moncef Al-Marzouki and secular leader Beji Caid Essebsi were widely seen as the most prominent contenders.

Essebsi, 87, has promised to restore the authority of the state and achieve stability in a country that has struggled with an economic deficit and witnessed a rise in Islamist extremism since the overthrow of Ben Ali.

Essebsi is leading the success of his two-year-old secular party, Nidaa Tounes, which gained the majority of seats in the country’s parliament in October’s legislative elections allowing the party to take the lead in building a coalition government.

With a career spanning over 50 years, Essebsi served three times as minister, once as head of parliament under both of Tunisia’s authoritarian presidents, Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali.

On the other hand, Al-Marzouki, 69, was elected as part of a power-sharing deal between Al-Nahda and its two smaller secular coalition partners, Ettakatol and Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic.

He was appointed as president in December 2011, a few months after the popular protests that toppled autocratic leader Ben Ali.

The country has only had two presidents – Habib Bourguiba, the founder of modern Tunisia, and Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, who overthrew Bourguiba in 1987. Ben Ali was also toppled in Tunisia’s 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Moncef Al-Marzouki has served as interim leader since then.