Marzouki prepares for kick-off in the presidential final

Marzouki prepares for kick-off in the presidential final
The interim president is enjoying strong popular support as he prepares to face Beji Caid Essebsi in the second half of Tunisia's presidential elections.
3 min read
17 December, 2014
Extra time: Marzouki is on the spot as voters head to the polls [Anadolu]

Mohammad Moncef Marzouki enjoys widespread popular support, despite harsh criticism in some quarters. The interim president faces Nidaa Tounes chief Beji Caid Essebsi in the second round of the presidential elections on 21 December - and more than a million people are expected to vote in the North African republic that started the Arab Spring in December 2010.

Marzouki had never been a member of a party or association until he joined the Tunisian Human Rights League in the mid-1980s. He then led the league from 1989 until 1994, succeeding Mohamed Charfi when he was appointed minister of education after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali became president in 1987.

There were always tensions between Marzouki and Ben Ali, and, in 1991, Marzouki confronted Ben Ali over the government's violent crackdown on the moderate Islamist Ennahdha Movement. Marzouki was arrested on several occasions for a variety of reasons, including working with banned Islamist groups.

In 2001, he founded the centre-left secular Congress for the Republic party (CPR), which was banned the following year, after which he went into exile in France.

     The door to power opened for Marzouki when Ben Ali fled the country after the revolution in 2011.

The human rights activist tried to rally various political movements around him through several unsuccessful initiatives. He was left with a small number of die-hard activists, who carried out attacks against the Ben Ali regime.

The door to power opened for Marzouki when Ben Ali fled the country after the revolution in 2011. He returned to Tunisia and announced on arrival at the airport he would run for president.

He then took part in Constituent Assembly elections later that year with a small party, and successfully won many seats. Negotiations began between the Troika parties - the unofficial name for the alliance between Ennahdha, the moderate Islamist party, Ettakatol, a social democratic party, and the CPR.

On 12 December 2011, Marzouki beat Mustapha Ben Jafar, secretary-general of Ettakol, to the presidential palace in Carthage after a vote by the Constituent Assembly.

Marzouki's presidency has been difficult. Despite his hard work he has been attacked for making mistakes and maintaining controversial positions. CPR has split into four organisations and many of its members have left.

The secular Nidaa Tounes party won parliamentary elections held on 26 October with 37 percent of the vote. As a result, Marzouki has not been expected to be re-elected president.

However, surprisingly, in the first round of the presidential elections on 23 November, Marzouki took second place - only six points behind 88-year-old Essebsi. As the second round is approaching, Marzouki continues to attract crowds on his campaign visits around Tunisia.

This recent wave of popular support for Marzouki is because Ennahdha supporters have ignored their leaders' instructions to stay neutral in elections - due to fears that the winning party will dominate parliament leading to a return to the old system of rule.

Even if Marzouki does not win Sunday's election, he has left his mark on Tunisia's history.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.