Ben Ali foe Moncef Marzouki named Tunisian president
By Houda Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis – 13/12/11
Long-time human rights defender Moncef Marzouki was sworn in as Tunisia's new interim president on Tuesday (December 13th).
"The efforts of the different political parties will be joined in the coming period to fulfill the objectives of the revolution and lay the foundations of a democratic and civilian state where rights are respected and liberties guaranteed, especially women's liberty," Marzouki said after the inauguration at the presidential palace in Carthage.
The Congress for the Republic (CPR) leader was elected Monday after winning 153 of 202 constituent Assembly votes. Forty-four lawmakers cast blank ballots.
"It is the greatest honour that anyone could dream of being elected by two-thirds of the vote," he said after the election. "I will exert all my efforts to be worthy of this trust."
A scathing critic of the Ben Ali regime and a celebrated activist, Marzouki was imprisoned in 1994 and then forced into exile. He returned to Tunisia shortly after the revolution. Marzouki is the first president to come from the south, whereas his predecessors hailed from the coastal regions.
Constituent Assembly member Khamis Qasila, from Ettakatol, expressed his confidence in the new president. "He is going to defend public and individual freedoms and the gains of the Tunisian people, despite the limited powers of his office," he said.
"There are diverse opinions about Dr. Marzouki. Some even comment about his appearance, which they see as incompatible with the typical image of an Arab president whose mummified face is the product of beauty salons," journalist Kamal Al-Charni said. "Such objections, however, do not bother Congress activists or Marzouki's supporters, who eagerly shared copies of his candidacy documents, saying 'Good luck, Mr. President'."
The Monday vote, however, was preceded by a wave of anger and protest. Some complained about the diminished powers of the chief executive, with more powers granted to the prime minister from Ennahda.
"With zero powers, do we expect our president, Marzouki, to eliminate corruption in Tunisia?" wondered Amal Rebai. "With zero powers, can he create jobs and achieve equitable development? He has zero powers. What reforms do we expect from a president without powers?"
For his part, lawmaker from Ennahda Amer Al-Arid criticised some parties' decision to cast blank ballots as sending "a negative message" to the public.
Maya Jribi, Secretary-General of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), defended the protest vote, saying that "the president was robbed of his powers, which were all monopolised by the prime minister".
"We voted using blank ballots in the presidential election, because the plan of the President of the Republic was emptied of its content and now has an indefinite deadline," said PDP founder Ahmed Nejib Chebbi. "It starts today, but we do not know when it will end. In addition, the results were known even before the voting process."
Despite these objections, many observers and citizens remained upbeat.
"Finally, Marzouki is the first Arab and Tunisian president to be elected and to represent the Tunisian people and revolution," Mourad Krifa told Magharebia. "Congratulations to the Tunisian people in this historic moment. Ben Ali was kicked from presidency to exile, while Moncef Marzouki switched from exile to presidency."
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