SAT 17 - 8 - 2019
 
Date: Jul 26, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Tunisia speaker sworn in as interim president
Tunisian president dies at 92
TUNIS: Tunisian Parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president Thursday, hours after President Beji Caid Essebsi’s death, in a smooth transition of power in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Under Tunisia’s constitution, the president should assume the presidency for 45 to 90 days while a new election is organized.

First, the Constitutional Court is supposed to confirm that the presidency is vacant. However, the court itself doesn’t exist yet, because lawmakers disagree over who its members should be. That could raise questions about the legitimacy of Ennaceur’s leadership.

In a brief speech, Ennaceur called on Tunisians “to strengthen your unity and solidarity so that the country can pursue its march toward progress.”

Essebsi, 92, died Thursday at the Tunis military hospital, and a state funeral is planned Saturday. The government declared seven days of mourning, as condolences poured in from several Arab countries.

“On Thursday morning, the President of the Republic died at the military hospital in Tunis. ... The burial ceremony will be announced later,” a presidency statement said.

The prime minister declared seven days of national mourning.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Jordan’s royal court also declared multiple days of mourning.

Most of Essebsi’s political career came well before the Arab Spring uprisings, and he outlived most of his peers in Tunisia’s independence generation. “We are sad today about the death of our president but proud that ... there will not be a vacuum in this young democracy. ... The country has a new president in a short time today,” journalist Zied Krichen said.

The next presidential election, hitherto set for Nov. 17, will now be held Sept. 15, the electoral commission chief said, without giving a date. A parliamentary vote is set for Oct. 6. The coming elections will be the third set of polls in which Tunisians have been able to vote freely since the 2011 uprising.

Essebsi rose to prominence after the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, which was followed by Arab Spring uprisings against authoritarian leaders across the Middle East, including in nearby Libya and Egypt.

Drafted in as premier after Ben Ali’s fall, Essebsi in 2012 founded the secular Nidaa Tounes party, now part of the governing coalition, to counterbalance the resurgence of Islamists who were suppressed under Ben Ali. Two years later, Essebsi became Tunisia’s first freely elected head of state.

“After the revolution, the president led the people to avoid conflict, led the democratic transition and was keen to build and complete the constitutional institutions,” the presidency statement said.

Analyst Ibrahim Ouslati said the death of Essebsi, one of the world’s oldest leaders, was not likely to disrupt politics. “I don’t think there will be any problem because Tunisians have a constitution that clearly shows that the speaker of the Parliament occupies the position temporarily,” he told Reuters. “The political elite has enough awareness to manage it wisely like any democratic country.”

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring uprisings, with a new constitution, free elections and a coalition government of moderate Islamist and secular parties in a region otherwise struggling with upheaval. But political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stands at about 15 percent, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.

Rached Ghannouchi, influential leader of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, said Essebsi had presided over a smooth evolution toward democracy by promoting inclusive politics.

Essebsi faced criticism, however, that he was seeking a return to a strong state with power concentrated in the presidency, whose role is limited to foreign and defense policies under the new constitution.

Tunisian president dies at 92

TUNIS: Tunisia’s 92-year-old president, Beji Caid Essebsi, a major player in the north African country's transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, has died, the presidency said on Thursday.

He was taken to a military hospital Wednesday.

A leading figure in the country's fortunes since 2011, Essebsi was hospitalized late last month and spent a week in hospital after suffering what authorities described as a severe health crisis.

"On Thursday morning, the President of the Republic died at the military hospital in Tunis ... The burial ceremony will be announced later," the presidency said in statement.

According to the constitution, the speaker of Parliament will temporarily serve as president.

Essebsi has been a prominent politician in Tunisia since the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which was followed by uprisings against authoritarian leaders across the Middle East, including in nearby Libya and Egypt.

Parliamentary elections are expected to be held on Oct. 6 with a presidential vote following on Nov. 17. They will be the third set of polls in which Tunisians have been able to vote freely following the 2011 revolution.

Essebsi had limited powers compared with Ben Ali, and was mainly responsible for foreign and defense policies.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorship, with a new constitution and free elections in 2011 and 2014.

But political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stands at about 15 percent, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.

Tunisia has been spared much of the violence seen elsewhere in the Middle East since 2011, although it has been the target of militant Islamists over the years.

Government troops have been battling militant groups in remote areas near the border with Algeria, while high unemployment has also stoked unrest in recent years.

After the overthrow of Ben Ali, Essebsi led the immediate transition as prime minister in 2011. He was elected president three years later. Essebsi had also been a senior figure before 2011, having served as foreign minister under state founder Habib Bourguiba and parliamentary speaker under Ben Ali.


 
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