On October 24, 1999, over 90 percent of Tunisia's eligible voters elected the incumbent president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. This is the 62-year-old leader's third 5-year term. This also marks the initial time in Tunisia's 43-year history that opposition candidates were allowed to challenge the president.
Still, human rights groups said that despite the government's declared commitment to political pluralism and press freedom, the gap between rhetoric and substantive action remains wide. When Ben Ali recently promised greater political liberalization, many still questioned whether there will in fact be any modification in the tough measures used to restrain Islamists, trade unionists and human rights activists.
Following the election, Ben Ali backed up his election promises of economic reform and growth by reshuffling his cabinet and appointing the economist Mohamed Ghannouchi as the state's new prime minister.
In general, Tunisia is considered safe from an Islamic fundamentalist take-over. The thirty-one year rule of Tunisian President Habib Bourghiba (1956-87) left the country relatively free of bureaucratic corruption and steered it clear of the same command economy structure that decimated Algeria.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)