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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 October, 2004, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Q&A: Tunisia votes
Tunisians exhorted to follow their president
President Ben Ali promises to boost growth

Tunisians go to the polls on Sunday to choose their next president. The incumbent, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is favourite after winning 99% of the vote last time.

Elections to the country's parliament are being held the same day.


Q: Who is running for president?

  • Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 68, is the candidate of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), which he heads.

    Since seizing power in a coup in 1987, he has won three consecutive terms.

    The office of president-for-life was abolished under constitutional amendments adopted in 1988. Presidents were to be elected every five years for no more than two terms.

    But a referendum in 2002 removed these restrictions and raised the age limit to 75.

    This gives Mr Ben Ali the opportunity to stand for a fourth term and perhaps a fifth.

    The poll will reproduce one-man rule monopolising all power
    Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, opposition leader

    His re-election bid is backed by national organisations, business groups, trade unions and two opposition parties.

  • Mohamed Bouchiha has been secretary-general of the opposition Popular Unity Party (PUP) for almost five years. The PUP and another opposition party mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Mr Ben Ali in 1999.

    Mr Bouchiha has described his candidacy as "part of the dynamic of political reform in Tunisia".

  • Mohamed Ali Halouani, a philosophy teacher, leads the left-wing Renewal Movement.

    Mr Halouani says he has no illusions about the likely result. But he believes his campaign highlights what he sees as a need for greater democracy.

  • Mounir Beji is president of the Liberal Social Party (PSL), a small liberal opposition party.

    Q: What are the issues?

    Mr Ben Ali has promised to boost growth, further the cause of women's rights and consolidate multi-party democracy.

    His supporters say he has played a key role in delivering stability and solid economic performance.

    FACTS & FIGURES
    4,620,000 registered voters
    13,000 polling stations
    300 candidates competing for 182 parliamentary seats
    Over 25% female candidates

    Opponents however believe he achieved this by suppressing dissent.

    The left-wing Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) has decided to boycott the election.

    "The poll will reproduce one-man rule monopolising all power," PDP leader Ahmed Nejib Chebbi said, announcing the boycott.

    The International Federation of Journalists has warned that pressure from the authorities "tarnishes the image of Tunisian journalism".

    And the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, has urged the authorities to ensure the elections are free and fair.

    Q: Who is standing for parliament?

    Over 300 candidates are contesting seats in the 182-member Chamber of Deputies. Officials say over 25% are women. Seven parties are fielding candidates.

  • Mr Ben Ali's Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) was founded by former President Habib Bourguiba in 1934. It has ruled the country since independence in 1956 and holds 148 seats.

    It is widely expected to retain its majority.

  • The Movement of Socialist Democrats (MDS) is the second largest party in parliament, with 13 seats.

    Although an opposition party, it has endorsed Mr Ben Ali's re-election bid saying this will "complete the process of democratic pluralism".

  • The Popular Unity Party (PUP) has seven seats in parliament. Its leader, Mohamed Bouchiha, is standing for president.

  • The Unionist Democratic Union (UDU) also holds seven seats in parliament. Its leader till recently was Abderrahman Tlili, one of two challengers defeated by Mr Ben Ali in 1999.

    In June 2004 Mr Tlili was given a nine-year prison sentence on corruption charges. He was replaced three months later by Ahmed Inoubli.

    Mr Inoubli has urged party members and all Tunisians to back Mr Ben Ali for president, saying he will continue to "drive the democratic process".

  • The secular left-wing Renewal Movement (MR), which supports its leader Mohamed Ali Halouani for president, has five seats in parliament. It once operated as a communist group.

  • The Liberal Social Party (PSL) is also backing a presidential hopeful, its leader Mounir Beji. The party holds two seats in parliament, and campaigns for free enterprise.

  • The Popular Unity Movement (MUP) was founded by former Finance and Planning Minister Ahmed Ben Salah in 1973. The party split into two factions in 1996, with some of its members leaving to set up the Popular Unity Party.

    It advocates radical reforms, but has no MPs.

    Q: Who can vote?

    All who have been Tunisian citizens for at least five years and are aged 20 or over are eligible.

    The country's interior minister recently announced that about 4,620,000 voters have been registered. He added that almost 13,000 polling stations will be open on election day.

    Campaigning for both polls officially runs from 10 to 22 October.

    BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




  • SEE ALSO:
    Country profile: Tunisia
    07 Jul 04 |  Country profiles
    Win confirms Tunisia leader in power
    27 May 02 |  Middle East


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