President Likely to Win Again; Pro-Western Ben Ali Has Averted Islamic Upheaval

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 25, 2004 | Go to article overview

President Likely to Win Again; Pro-Western Ben Ali Has Averted Islamic Upheaval


Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

TUNIS, Tunisia - President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was headed for an almost certain five-year extension of his mandate when Tunisians voted in presidential and parliamentary elections yesterday.

He has been in power 17 years, during which time he created a regimented society without strikes or protest, but with a growing standard of living. He has pledged gradual evolution toward a credible multiparty system.

Western governments generally support the conservative Tunisian president, although some, including the United States, would like to see greater transparency and more voice for the opposition. Tunisian officials insist Mr. Ben Ali's approach has spared the country Islamic upheaval and kept it on a pro-Western course.

Tunisia's dominant political party has been the main power base of the North African country's two presidents since gaining independence from France in 1956. The original Socialist Destour Party has been renamed the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) by Mr. Ben Ali and has adjusted its program.

Opponents claim they have no prospects of changing the system or attracting significant voter support.

A total of 152 candidates from the RCD are virtually guaranteed seats in the 189-member Chamber of Deputies. The party has earmarked 25 percent of the seats for female candidates.

Tunisian women have made greater progress toward equality with men than in any other Arab country, and constitute a major factor in opposing Islamic fundamentalism.

The five "legal opposition" parties, which do not challenge the system introduced by Mr. Ben Ali, will be given the remaining 37 parliament seats, according to their strength in the 26 electoral districts.

Three parties have also fielded presidential candidates, but their campaigns were dwarfed by the organized RCD apparatus and Mr. …

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