Essebsi and Marzouki emerge on top in Tunisia election

Essebsi and Marzouki emerge on top in Tunisia election
Beji Caid Essebsi and Moncef Marzouki look set for the second round of Tunisia's presidential elections, as Sunday's vote count gets underway.
3 min read
24 November, 2014
Tunisians are now likely to be asked to choose between Essebsi and Marzouki (AFP)
The battle lines for Tunisia's expected runoff for the presidency are being drawn, even as the votes from Sunday's landmark first round ballot are still being counted.

The 87-year old Beji Caid Essebsi, who leads the secularist Nidaa Tounes party, appears to have won the most votes in the first round, but not enough for an outright majority which would have seen him avoid a run-off, scheduled for late December.

Instead, he is likely to face the incumbent president, Moncef Marzouki, a secular politician who has allied with Islamists, as well as other parties.

Marzouki, who has been president since 2011, was a long-standing critic of the regime of Tunisia's former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and spent many years in exile.

This stands in contrast to Essebsi, who was a prominent politician under Ben Ali and his predecessor Habib Bourguiba, occupying many senior positions, including speaker of parliament.

With the polling booths barely
     I am now calling on all democratic forces... I have become their natural candidate." - Moncef Marzouki
closed, Marzouki announced on Sunday that he was the "democratic" candidate.

"I am now calling on all democratic forces... alongside whom I have campaigned for the past 30 years for a real democracy, for a break with the past, for a genuine civil society and for a separation of powers, I call on them to unite around their candidate. I have become their natural candidate," said Marzouki.

Marzouki is hoping that voters who voted for other "revolutionary" candidates in the first round, such as leftist Hamma Hammami, will give him their vote in the second round to avoid an Essebsi presidency.

Hammami, who according to exit polls came third, has said that his political group will meet "as soon as possible" to consider how to vote in the probably runoff.

Essebsi is meanwhile presenting himself as the candidate who will bring back security and stability, something that many Tunisians feel has been missing since the overthrow of Ben Ali in 2011.

Islamic radical militancy has been on the rise in Tunisia since 2011, and Marzouki's time as president in that period, as well as his alliance with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, have tainted him by association.

Essebsi has been highly critical of Ennahda, and although the group still has strong support, it has lost popularity in the years since the revolution, only coming second in last month's parliamentary election to Nidaa Tounes. 

Yet with Marzouki's Congress for the Republic party performing poorly in the parliamentary election, it was Ennahda's supporters who largely backed him in Sunday's vote.

Differing numbers

Although there is little disagreement over the make-up of the run-off duo of Essebsi and Marzouki, the two sides disagree on the balance of support after the first round.

Adnene Mancer, Marzouki's
     According to preliminary estimates, [Essebsi] is ahead and has a large lead.
- Essebsi campaign
campaign manager, said that the campaigns were neck and neck.

"At the worst we are even but at best we're two and four percent ahead," he told reporters after polls closed.

However, Essebsi's team were confident that they had a commanding lead.

"According to preliminary estimates, [Essebsi] is ahead and has a large lead," Essebsi's campaign manager Mohsen Marzouk told journalists.