Tunis (AsiaNews) - The official results of the presidential elections in Tunisia will be available later this evening, but Beji Caid Essebsi, candidate for the anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party, already declared victory last night as according to exit polls. The outgoing President, the other candidate in the runoff, Moncef Marzouki, accused him of "undemocratic" behaviour.
Yesterday saw a large participation of voters in the first democratic elections since independence (1956) and after the 2011 revolution which ousted dictator Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali and kicked off the Arab Spring in the Middle East .
Immediately after the polls closed at 5pm, based on exit polls that suggested a 55% favourable vote, the 88-year-old Essebsi appeared on television, announcing victory and thanking his supporters, who have begun to celebrate with car parades and the waving of flags (see photo).
Marzoukis party pointed out that results are not final yet, that the margin of difference is too small and has accused the rival party of "violations".
Essebsi, a veteran politician from the times of Bourguiba, has been responsible for Security and has served for a short time under Ben Ali. He is seen as someone with experience and knowledge regarding the workings of the state, someone who can help stabilize the country after the shock of the Arab Spring. His anti-Islamist image has the consensus of those who fear the descent of Tunisia into the same kind of chaos that has swept through other Arab Spring countries. But he is popular with the wealthy and is suspected of wanting to impose the power of the lobbies that go back to the time of Ben Ali.
Marzouki, a union and human rights activist, who was exiled at the time of Ben Ali, was President immediately after the revolution. Despite being secular himself, he is backed by Islamist parties.
The election campaign took place with mutual accusations between the two candidates. Marzouki accused Essebsi of wanting a return to dictatorship; the latter accused the former of wanting to ruin the country with Islamism.
The election took place in relative calm despite the threat of jihadist groups. Yesterday there was only one incident in Kairouan, where a polling station was attacked before opening. Soldiers and police killed an assailant and arrested three others.
In the first round of voting, last November 23, Essebsi had won 39% of the vote, six points ahead of Marzouki. Last October, Essebsi's party also won the Parliamentary elections.
The biggest challenge for the country's economic situation, which is affected by insecurity and the upheaveals that followed the Arab Spring, with a high unemployment rate among young people.