Despite suspected ties to the old regime, Essebsi is the new president of Tunisia
Beji Caid Essebsi wins more than 55 per cent of the vote. More than 3.1 million voters cast their ballots with a turnout of around 60 per cent. The new president dedicates the victory to "the martyrs of Tunisia," stating that he "will be president for all Tunisians". His challenger admits defeat and pledges cooperation for the sake of "national unity". The economy and Islamism are the main challenges.

Tunis (AsiaNews) - Beji Caid Essebsi, a veteran political leader and presidential candidate for the anti-Islamist party's Nidaa Tounes, is the official winner in the first democratic presidential election in the history of Tunisia.

Final results confirm what exit polls had indicated yesterday, namely a large Essebsi victory over his challenger in the runoff, Moncef Marzouki, who initially accused the new president of "undemocratic" moves and only later conceded defeat.

Essebsi, 88, won 55.68 per cent of the vote. More than 3.1 million voters cast their ballots for a turnout of 60 per cent.

Sunday's presidential election was first democratic presidential poll since independence (1956). It follows the revolution of 2011 that ousted dictator Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali and kicked off the Arab Spring in the rest of the Middle East.

"I will be president for all Tunisians," Essebsi said in an address to the nation on Sunday, adding, "I dedicate my victory to the martyrs of Tunisia".

He then thanked "the former president [and challenger] Moncef Marzouki, who called me a little while ago and expressed his congratulations. I told him," he noted, "that the Tunisian people still needs me and him, and his advice."

Whilst not denying the deep divisions, Marzouki called on his supporters, in particular in southern Tunisia, to accept the results and "go home" for the sake of "national unity" and in the greater good of the country. "These are the rules of democracy," he said.

Still he did complain about alleged vote irregularities, but said he would not challenge the results in court for the sake of the country's stability and the quick establishment of a new government.

Critics view the leader of the Nidaa Tounes, which has largest share of seats in the new parliament, as a representative of the old regime, but with an injection of Botox.

Under a constitution passed earlier this year, the new president will have restricted powers.

He will be commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can appoint or sack senior officers only in consultation with the prime minister. He will also set foreign policy in consultation with the prime minister, represent the state and ratify treaties.

After receiving greetings and congratulations from world leaders, Essebsi now faces a delicate situation in the country.

In particular, Tunisia's economy remains a major challenge given widespread poverty among Tunisians and weak growth, a situation compounded by security issues related to growing Islamist and jihadist movements.

A few days before the election, the militant group Islamic state had in fact threatened attacks and bombings.