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Aging former Tunisian premier to run for presidency

July 9, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Former Tunisian Prime Minister, Beji Caid El-Sebsi, 87, yesterday announced that he intends to run for president in the November 23 election, “if he’s still alive”, Al-Quds news agency reported.

El-Sebsi, co- founder and chairman of the Call for Tunisia Party, said at a press conference: “I intend to run for presidency, if I am still alive on Election Day.”

He called to extend the voters’ registration process, which began on June 23 and is scheduled to end on July 22, after the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE) announced a “huge reluctance among Tunisians to register for the next elections”.

“If elections were held with this [low] number of voters… they will not be credible,” he said, adding “We have to extend the deadlines… We cannot register four million voters within a month.”

According to Tunisian authorities, the number of Tunisians eligible to vote is nearly eight million, but only 100,000 have registered to vote in the next election compared to four million Tunisians who registered in the 2011 elections.

Tunisians who are 18 years old or older are eligible to vote in the next elections but those who did not register in 2011 and 2014 cannot participate in the next general election.

El-Sebsi’s opponents accuse his party of including former members of the Democratic Constitutional Rally, the ruling party in the era of ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia in the wake of a massive popular uprising.

According to opinion polls, the Call for Tunisia Party enjoys popularity similar to the Islamist Ennahda Movement, which won elections in October.

Party supporters say their party is the only one capable of competing with the Islamists in the elections.

In May, the Call for Tunisia Party, which was founded two years ago, nominated El-Sebsi for the presidential elections scheduled for November and December 2014.

El-Sebsi is a lawyer who graduated from the Faculty of Law in Paris.

A political veteran, he held several important posts during the rule of the late President Habib Bourguiba (1956-1987) including those of minister of the interior, defence and foreign affairs. During the rule of Ben Ali (1987-2011) he served as parliament speaker between 1990 and 1991, before he withdrew from political life.

El-Sebsi returned to political life after the revolution of January 14, 2011. On February 27, 2011, interim President Fouad Mebazaa appointed him interim prime minister, succeeding Mohamed Ghannouchi, who resigned on the same day.