- Contrary to the normal 99 percent win for Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the incumbent won by "only" 94.5 percent of the vote in Sunday's election. As the official results were announced today, the subjugated Tunisian press and the Arab League hailed the "free elections", while the boycotting opposition and Western governments were disappointed by the "serious flaws".
There were no surprises as Tunisian authorities today announced that President Ben Ali had won the presidential polls to start on his forth term as the nation's leader. According to official results, support for the President is close to universal. An impressing 92 percent of all Tunisians had made use of their right to vote. Out of these 4.9 million voters, 4.5 million had opted for President Ben Ali.
The incumbent was, according to these results, followed by Mohamed Bouchiha, Secretary-General of the opposition's Popular Unity Party (PUP). Mr Bouchiha received 167,986 of the votes cast, representing 3.78 percent. On third place came Mohamed Ali Halouani of the former communist party, with less than one percent of the votes.
Despite the "landslide win" for President Ben Ali, the government's "democratisation efforts" would assure the opposition a fair representation in parliament. Tunisian law says that no political party, not even President Ben Ali's ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally, can hold more than 80 percent of the seats in parliament. The opposition would therefore be granted 38 parliamentary seats, despite its bad "election results".
The outcome of the election was hailed by the Tunisian press, which is totally censored by Tunis authorities. The semi-official 'Tunisia Online' noted that President Ben Ali won because he had "received the support of major national organisations and unions in the country." The entire press had also endorsed the incumbent's bid for a forth term before the poll.
The democratic standards were also hailed by election observers sent by the Arab League. There had been "no serious violations" during the poll, observer Ahmed Ben Helli told the French news agency AFP. "Globally, conditions allowed citizens to express their choice freely," he said, adding the poll had been "organised in line with objective international criteria."
This hailing of Tunisia's democratic values by an Arab League observer was however found curious by some observers, given the fact that no member country of that League upholds basic democracy standards. There were, of course, totally contradicting perceptions on the standards upheld at Sunday's polls in Tunisia.
Two out of Tunisia's seven legal opposition parties had boycotted the elections altogether, saying that they were not going to be free or fair. Any real opposition to President Ben Ali further has had no chance at emerging in the tightly controlled country, which has a large number of political prisoners.
Consequently, Western countries reacted with disappointment to the election process, including firm Tunisian allies such as the EU and the US. Spokesman Adam Ereli of the US State Department, for example, noted that opportunities for the opposition to contest the election had been limited, and that the US was hoping to see a greater degree of political reform in that country in the future.
Mr Ereli said the ability of opposition candidates to "meaningfully" compete was an important indicator of the strength of democratic institutions in any country, including Tunisia. "Tunisia has successfully opened up opportunities over the years in economic reform, in education and women's rights. They've been very progressive and have shown real far-sightedness. Our concern is that Tunisia meet the same standards for opportunities in political participation," the US spokesman said.
However, neither the US nor the EU is willing to push strongly for democratic reform in Tunisia, which is the most politically stable and economically advanced in the North African region. Americans and Europeans are, instead, competing to gain economic influence in Tunis, with the US offering a free trade deal and the EU offering a Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone.
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