TUNIS: Tunisia is to bring forward a planned November presidential election by several weeks, the electoral commission said on Thursday following the death of incumbent Beji Caid Essebsi. Interim leader Mohammed Ennaceur “has 90 days to organise a presidential election” under the North African country’s constitution, commission head Nabil Baffoun said. That means the poll must be held by October 23.
Tunisia’s 92-year-old president, Beji Caid Essebsi, who helped guide the North African country’s transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, has died, the presidency said on Thursday.
A leading figure in the country’s fortunes since 2011, Essebsi was hospitalised late last month for a week 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,” a presidency statement said.
The speaker of parliament, Mohamed Ennaceur, said he would be the country’s temporary president, in line with the constitution. In a speech on national television, Ennaceur also called for unity following Essebsi’s passing.
The prime minister declared seven days of national mourning. A source said Ennaceur’s swearing in would take place at 1300 GMT.
Essebsi had 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.
Drafted in as prime minister in 2011 after Ben Ali was toppled, Essebsi was elected president three years later, becoming the country’s first directly elected head of state after its “Arab Spring” uprising.
Parliamentary elections are expected to be held on October 6 with a presidential vote following on November 17.
The presidency statement called on Tunisians to unite and safeguard their country’s present and future.
“After the revolution, the president led the people to avoid confrontation and led the democratic transition and was keen to build and complete the constitutional institutions,” it 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 said. “Politically, there will be no problem. The political elite has enough awareness to manage it wisely like any democratic country.”