Amid various opposition boycotts and accusations of blatant vote rigging, some 4.62 million Tunisians are voting en masse in presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday. President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, 68, is certain to secure another five-year term, unless there is an unexpected sudden upset, and the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), the ruling party for almost half a century, is not expected to lose control of the 189-seat parliament.
Ben Ali first came to power in 1987 after Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's ruler for the previous 30 years was declared senile. He has polled well over 90% in every election, usually 99%. Many see these inflated majorities as clear evidence of tampered results.
Tunisia is an important ally of both France and the US in the region, particularly in the so-called fight against terrorim and women empowerment. Neither has an interest to upset proceedings in what is seen as one of the Arab world's most democratic and prosperous countries. Tunisia is also a popular tourist destination for low budget European tourists.
Opposition parties and human rights groups are less compliant, however, and are trying to draw attention to abuse of their candidates and reported intimidation tactics. The leading opposition Democratic Progressive Party decided to boycott the elections and cancelled its 89 candidates over the weekend. Opposition groups have made several appeals to the world press and international human rights NGOs to publicize what they claim is the sham of Tunisia's reform efforts and the active involvement of the US in propping up Ben Ali because of his tough stance against Islamists.
Polls are due to close at 15.30pm GMT. The first results are expected early Monday. (albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )