Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali on Sunday kicked off a campaign in favor of a constitutional referendum that would pave the way for him to run for re-election in 2004.
Speaking during a rally attended by several thousand people, Ben Ali said the referendum would "modernize the structure of the legislative power" through the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and further democratization through a two-round presidential election procedure.
The first ever referendum among the north African country's 3.6 million voters will be held in two weeks - - on May 26.
The constitutional reform bill breezed through the parliament, dominated by the ruling party, early last month, AFP reported.
Under the changes, a president can stand for re-election an unlimited number of times but the maximum age for eligibility will remain 70, as stipulated in the current constitution.
At 65, Ben Ali is thus eligible to run only once more, while under the current rules he would have to step down at the end of his third five-year term in 2004.
Ben Ali has led Tunisia since seizing power in a bloodless coup to topple the senile Habib Bourguiba in 1987.
Bourguiba, who died at 96 in 2000, acquired the title "president for life" under a constitutional amendment in 1975, a measure Ben Ali had removed from the books.
Tunisia had its first taste of multi-party democracy in 1999, since Ben Ali stood as the sole candidate in presidential elections in 1989 and 1994.
The last elections, in 1999, were seen as a trial balloon for multi-party politics. However, Ben Ali faced only token resistance from two challengers and won with 99 percent of the vote.
When Ben Ali floated the idea of constitutional reforms last November as he marked his 14th year in power, he drew hostility from the opposition over his apparent desire to stand for a fourth term. (Albawaba.com)
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