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Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

Beji Caid Essebsi has been sworn in as Tunisia’s president after winning the country’s first free presidential poll.

Beji Caid Essebsi, 88, secured victory last week over incumbent Moncef Marzouki.

His triumph means Tunisia – where the Arab Spring began – remains the only Arab country to move from authoritarian rule to democracy in that period.

On December 29, electoral authorities confirmed that Beji Caid Essebsi had won a run-off vote against Moncef Marzouki.

The new president took his oath of office at a ceremony in the newly elected parliament – where his party Nidaa Tounes also holds the largest number of seats.

The swearing in comes four years after protests that eventually toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Journalist Naveena Kottoor in Tunis says that while this is the latest democratic milestone for Tunisia, many in the country are arguing that political transition will only succeed if newly-elected politicians usher in social and economic changes.

Beji Caid Essebsi has urged all Tunisians to “work together” for stability but critics say his win marks the return of a discredited establishment, pointing out that he served under President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

This month’s vote was the first time Tunisians have been able to vote freely for their president since independence from France in 1956.

The new president will have restricted powers under a constitution passed earlier this year.

Beji Caid Essebsi will be commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can appoint or sack senior officers only in consultation with the prime minister.

Tunisians are voting to elect the country’s first full parliament under a new constitution passed earlier this year.

The election is one of the final stages in the political transition which followed the ousting of authoritarian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

There are no opinion polls, but the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which won Tunisia’s last national election in 2011, is expected to do well.

Its main rival is likely to be the liberal Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia’s Call).

Most of the major parties have vowed to tackle Tunisia’s high unemployment and to reinvigorate its economy.

Tunisia is seen as the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” – the pro-democracy movement which sought to replace autocratic governments in several Arab countries.

The country is considered to have had the most successful outcome, with relatively low levels of violence.

Tunisians are voting to elect the country’s first full parliament under a new constitution passed earlier this year

Tunisians are voting to elect the country’s first full parliament under a new constitution passed earlier this year (photo Reuters)

However, radical groups within Tunisia have threatened to disrupt the elections and on October 23 militants shot a policeman on the outskirts of the capital, Tunis.

More than 50,000 security personnel and nearly 20,000 soldiers are expected to be deployed on Sunday to ensure safe voting.

Around five million Tunisians have registered to vote, with overseas residents having already cast their votes on October 24.

Some observers fear a low turnout, arguing that voters have become disaffected with politics after a lack of economic progress in the years following Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s overthrow.

Results are expected on October 29. Ennahda, which currently rules in coalition with other parties, has promised to pursue a unity government even if it wins the most seats.

Tunisia is set to hold a presidential election on November 23, which will deliver the country’s first directly elected leader following the ousting of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in street protests almost four years ago.

The protests, which began in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid in late 2010, later gathered pace and spread across much of the Arab world the following year.

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