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Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Tunisian president's fourth term plan
President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia
Ben Ali allows little dissent
By North Africa correspondent David Bamford

The ruling party in Tunisia is set to change the country's constitution, to allow President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to run for a fourth term in elections set for 2003.

The Constitutional Democratic Rally, or RCD, has called on Mr Ben Ali to be its candidate, but opposition parties and human rights workers have expressed dismay at the prospect.


With the ruling RCD dominating parliament a change in the constitution is a formality

Mr Ben Ali's critics say Tunisia is functioning as a one-party state and that all media outlets express government opinion.

Under changes to Tunisia's constitution in the 1980s, presidents are only allowed to stand for a maximum of three five-year terms.

Patriotic

Mr Ben Ali has described the ruling party's central committee as patriotic for endorsing him as their presidential candidate.

Tunis skyline
Tunisians find out what the opposition is up to through the internet

His response indicates that he will be only too willing to continue to play the role.

With the RCD dominating the country's parliament, a change in the constitution is expected to be a formality.

There seems little opposition parties and human rights groups could do except express their dismay.

Internet websites

President Ben Ali has earned the reputation of being tough on dissent, and indeed on any criticism of his government.

Those who speak up against him do so on Internet websites or Arab language TV stations which are beamed to North Africa from abroad.

Despite his insistence that Tunisia is functioning as a multi-party democracy, Mr Ben Ali's detractors would argue that it operates more and more like a one-party state.

The state, they would add, is headed by a president for life, which is exactly the scenario that the constitutional changes in the 1980s were intended to prevent.

See also:

30 Jul 00 | Middle East
Tunisia human rights row
02 Feb 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tunisia
25 Oct 99 | Middle East
Tunisian president wins third term
30 Apr 01 | Middle East
Tunisia condemned for rights record
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