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Tunisia - election explainer

Who is President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali?

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-10-25 Latest update 2009-10-27 07:53 TU

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali( Photo: AFP )

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
( Photo: AFP )

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's re-election for a fifth term seems assured in Sunday's presidential election. Praised by the International Monetary Fund for his handling of the economy, he has angered human rights groups and opposition parties. Who is he?

Ben Ali is 73 years old, making this his last election unless the constitutional ban on over-75-year-olds standing for President is changed.

He has ruled Tunisia for 22 years. He took over from Habib Bourguiba, who had ruled the country since independence from France in 1956. In a so-called "medical coup" Ben Ali allegedly persuaded doctors to declare Bourguiba senile.

He is supported by the Constitutional Democratic Party (RCD), which has 2.7 million members in a country of 10.3 million people and had a hefty majority in the outgoing National Assembly.

His economic management has been praised by the International Monetary Fund for building "solid economic foundations". But unemployment stands at 14 per cent and the army put down jobless riots in a mining region in 2008.

His record on human rights has frequently come under fire, with opposition activists claiming that they have been physically and legally harassed and anti-torture campaigner Radhia Nasraoui currently banned from leaving the country.

His succession may be assured by his wife, Leila Ben Ali, who has attended campaign rallies and given interviews to the media, despite having no official position. Tunisian newspapers have accorded her 14 per cent of their front page coverage during the campaign, more than they gave to all eight opposition parties, according to campaign groups. "There is nothing to prevent her standing," says an RCD official.

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