Former prime minister Beji Caid Essibsi is poised to win Tunisia’s presidential elections, exit polls showed late Sunday. The polling firm Sigma Conseil said that Essibsi is set to win 55.5 per cent of the vote, while his rival, outgoing President Moncef Marzouki is to garner 44.5 per cent.
The tallies were released after the vote ended in the presidential run-off, seen as capping Tunisia’s democratic transition after the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the 2011 uprising.
Provisional official results are expected by Tuesday. Shortly after the polls closed at 6 pm (1700 GMT), Essibsi’s campaign team claimed victory.
“Essibsi has won. The difference in voting in his favour was clear,” the chief of Essibsi’s campaign, Mohsen Marzouq, said at a press conference. “As in all democracies, we ask everyone to accept the results.”
A senior official in Marzouki’s campaign said the claim that Assibsi had won was baseless.
“Initial results show that the two competitors are very close,” Adnan Mansar, the head of Marzouki’s campaign, said.
Essibsi’s backers, meanwhile, gathered outside his campaign headquarters in the centre of the capital Tunis, celebrating his reported win.
“Beji is the president,” they chanted in unison.
Essibsi served in several high-ranking positions under the founder of independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, and his successor Ben Ali.
Essibsi was ahead in last month’s first round, when he gained 39.5 per cent of the vote compared with Marzouki’s 33.4 per cent.
Voting on Sunday got off to a slow start, with just 26 per cent of the country’s 5.2 million eligible voters having cast their ballots by noon.
But momentum picked up in the following hours, reaching 36.8 per cent by 1500 (1400 GMT) and 59 per cent three hours later, the election commission said.
Essibsi’s secularist Nida Tonues party took the lead in October’s parliamentary polls. The Tunisian constitution adopted this year grants the prime minister greater powers than the president, who is responsible for foreign affairs, security and defence.
The new president will have to grapple with the challenges of re-establishing security in Tunisia, where suspected insurgents have carried out attacks mainly against security forces. Hours before the start of voting, a gunman was killed in an exchange of fire with military forces guarding a polling station south of Tunis, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry said.
Three suspected attackers were arrested in the city of Kairouan, which is located 155 kilometres south of the capital, the official said. One soldier was wounded. Authorities reduced voting times in the volatile areas near the border with Algeria due to security concerns.
Around 100,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed to secure the polls.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, is widely seen as the sole success story of the Arab revolutionary movements. Uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen have all led to conflicts, while Egypt saw its Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, elected in 2012, deposed by the army last year.