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Tunisians Head to Polls to Elect a New President

Voters stand in line to cast their votes. Photo shared by Tunisia Live on Twitter

Voters stand in line to cast their votes. Photo shared by Tunisia Live on Twitter

Tunisians are once again heading to polls today to elect a new president, in the second round of the presidential election.

Outgoing interim president Moncef Marzouki faces 88-year-old political veteran Beji Caid Essebsi from Nida Tounes.

During the first round of the presidential race, Essebsi obtained 39 per cent of the votes while Mazouki came second with 33 per cent of the votes.

Essebsi's party secured a plurality during the parliamentary elections on October 26, winning 86 out of the total 217 seats. The Islamist Ennahdha movement, which won the 2011 election, obtained 69 seats.

Though his party did not do well in the legislative poll only winning four seats, Marzouki is backed by Ennahdha supporters. This is despite a decision by Ennahdha, which did not present a candidate to the presidency, not to support any of the final contenders.

‘Historic’ poll

The 21 December run-off will put an end to a four-year democratic transition that started after the ousting of former President Zine el-Abidin Ben Ali on January 14, 2011.

On Twitter, netizens are sharing their hopes for a better tomorrow for Tunisia.

The powers of the upcoming president are restricted by the 2014 constitution. However, today's polls are considered ‘historic’ because this is the first time that Tunisians are able to freely elect their President.

The contenders

Beji Caid Essebsi occupied various ministerial posts under the country's autocratic post-independence president Habib Bourguiba, including the despised Interior Ministry from 1965 to 1969. Essebsi also served as the head of the chamber of deputies between 1990 to 1991 under the rule of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

After the 2011 revolution, he was appointed as an interim prime minister before leaving office after the constituent assembly election of 2011. Essebsi's opponents criticize him for his old age and his association with the previous autocratic regimes of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. His party Nidaa Tounes includes in its leadership members of the former regime.

Aged 69, Moncef Marzouki was a human rights activist and a political opponent to the regime of Zine el Abidin Ben Ali. He served as the head of the Tunisian League for Human Rights between 1989 and 1984. In 2001, he founded the center-left Congress for the Republic party (CPR), before it was banned a year later and Marzouki went into exile in France.

Marzouki became president in December 2011 after his party came second in the Constituent Assembly election and entered into a three-party coalition government with the Islamist Ennahdha Movement, which won a plurality in the 2011 election.

Marzouki's critics blame him and the performance of his ruling partners for the erosion in living standards, the rise of militant insurgency against Tunisian troops and police and two political assassinations that claimed the lives of secular politician Chokri Belaid and constituent assembly member Mohamed Brahmi.

On December 19, Essebsi said:

Beji Caid Essebsi: on December 21, voters need to realize that they will be voting against those seeking to revive Troika [the three-party coalition that served between late 2011 and early 2014]

During his campaign, Marzouki evoked his record of a human rights activist and slammed his opponent for serving under the previous regime.

The methods of the previous regime need to leave

He further presented himself as the ‘guarantor of freedoms':

I will be the guarantor of freedoms and of democracy, and the path of history never returns back

But Essebsi also pledges to guarantee freedoms.

Caid Essebsi: I will be the guarantor of freedoms. Unlike our opponents, we look to the future and not the past

Reports of low turnout

As voters continue to flock to polling stations which opened at 8am and close at 6pm local time, there have been reports of low turnout.

Wafa Ben Hassine tweeted a picture of an empty polling station in Mahdia (central-eastern Tunisia).

She added in another tweet:

Saran Aissi tweeted:

At 9am, I was the 6th voter in my polling bureau. There are so very few voters that the officers are having fun at counting them

According to the electoral commission, the turnout inside the country reached 36.8 per cent as of 2:30pm.

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