Hope for change and stability as Tunisia prepares to elect new president
TUNIS - Tunisia's first presidential election since the 2011 revolution is a ray of hope for Arab Spring countries, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said Saturday, on the eve of the historic poll.
Sunday's first multi-candidate presidential election is seen as the final stage of a post-revolt transition in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, with more than 20 candidates vying for the post.
The election represents "hope, a big hope for the region," Mehdi said during a last-minute inspection of polling stations in the region of Beja, west of the capital Tunis.
"We were the first to enter into this cycle of change which they have called the Arab Spring. We will be the first (to make the transition) but others will follow," he said.
Tunisia has won international plaudits for largely steering clear of the violence, repression and lawlessness of other Arab Spring countries such as Libya.
The presidential election, which follows October 26 parliamentary polls, is seen as the culmination of an arduous transition during which the outgoing legislature adopted a new constitution.
Despite serious challenges, including the 2013 assassination of two opposition politicians by suspected jihadists and economic setbacks, Tunisia's interim rulers managed to keep the country together.
More than five million Tunisians are eligible to vote in Sunday's election.
The top contenders are Beji caid Essebsi, the former leader of the anti-Islamist party Nidaa Tounes which won the October parliamentary polls, and outgoing president Moncef Marzouki, who is backed by the supporters of the Ennahda Islamist party.
A second round is to be contested at the end of December if the winner fails to secure an absolute majority.
Until the revolution, the North African country had known only two heads of state: Habib Bourguiba, the "father of independence" from France in 1956, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Ben Ali deposed Bourguiba in a December 7, 1987 coup, and was himself forced to quit and flee to Saudi Arabia in January 2011.