Tunisia president wins 5th term

Tunisia's president has been re-elected in a landslide for a fifth, five-year term, the Interior Ministry announced Monday.

Tunisia's president has been re-elected in a landslide for a fifth five-year term, the Interior Ministry announced Monday.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali won 89.62 per cent of Sunday's vote, the ministry said at a news conference. It was the lowest percentage of the vote Ben Ali has captured since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1987.

In 2004, he had more than 94 per cent of the vote — a drop from his previous victories, which fluctuated between 99.2 and 99.7 per cent.

The results from Sunday's presidential and legislative elections reflect the limited but somewhat increased visibility allowed rivals in the race. Runner-up Mohamed Bouchiha won 5.01 per cent of the vote and Ahmed Inoubli 3.8 per cent but both were viewed as largely cosmetic opposition.

The third rival candidate, Ahmed Brahim of the Ettajdid, of the "change" movement, scored 1.57 per cent of the vote.

"At least we've established the existence of a credible opposition movement in Tunisia," Brahim said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. He declined to comment on his share.

Hard-line political parties outlawed

The turnout Sunday was 89.45 per cent of Tunisia's 5.3 million voters, authorities said. Hard-line opposition groups and Islamists are outlawed and did not take part in the election.

Tunisians also chose 214 lawmakers for the lower house of parliament. Ben Ali's Constitutional and Democratic Rally, or RCD, which has been continuously in power since Tunisia's independence from France in 1956, won 161 seats. A sprinkling of small opposition and independent parties shared the remaining 53 seats.

At 73, Ben Ali was running for his last mandate under the current constitution, which sets the age limit for a presidential candidate at 75.

Many voters see continuity as a good thing in this Mediterranean vacation haven in North Africa, a strong U.S. and European ally and a relatively secular, moderate and stable outpost in the Arab world.

Rights groups deplore the country's overbearing police presence and general absence of any real freedom of expression.

Despite the criticism, even Ben Ali's opponents acknowledge the results he has achieved in this small country that lacks any significant natural resources.

Tunisia is expecting three per cent growth in gross domestic product this year despite the global recession. The country's poverty rate has dropped below four per cent and it is a regional model in terms of literacy, social welfare and the role women play in society.