Veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi declared victory in Sunday’s presidential run-off vote, seen as the last step in Tunisia’s shift to full democracy four years after an uprising ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Official results are not due until Monday and his rival, the incumbent president, Moncef Marzouki, refused to concede defeat. Authorities deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and police to provide polling day security. Just hours before polls opened, troops guarding ballot papers in the central region of Kairouan came under attack and shot dead one assailant and captured three, the defence ministry said. Victory for Essebsi would enable him to consolidate power, with his new secular party, Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) already controlling parliament after defeating the main Islamist party in legislative elections in October.
Tunisia has won today, democracy has won, we need to stay united. Despite the claims of our adversary, all indications are positive for us, we look ahead
Moncef Marzouki, rejecting the victory claim and saying that he would emerge the winner when the official results were released
It is the first time that Tunisians have freely elected their president since independence from France in 1956. Almost 5.3 million Tunisians were eligible to vote. With a new progressive constitution and a string of votes successfully completed, Tunisia is hailed as an example of democratic change in a region that is struggling to cope with the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, as it was the first country to depose its leader after the revolts and inspired other uprisings in the region.