Tunisia: Legacy of President Essebsi

Tunisia's first democratically elected president, Beji Caïd Essebsi, has died at the age of 92.What legacy did Essebsi leave in a country that kick started the so-called Arab Spring across the region?

Tunisia's 2011 revolution saw longtime ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali deposed followed by elections that voted Essebsi into office in 2014 as a candidate of Nidaa Tounes.

He beat outgoing president Moncef Marzouki in run-off elections in December.

Since 2011, the country has been through ten governments, each one failing to solve nation-wide problems of poverty and unemployment.

But one area where there has been some consistency is largely due to Essebsi says Omar Belhaj Salah, a writer and political analyst.

"He [Essebsi] believed in statesmanship and in the legacy of the founder of modern Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba. He [Essebsi], after the revolution played a monumental role in stabilizing the country, encouraging everyone to opt for the democratic option, which was a big deal and was the right thing to do .

Transition of power

Following the ousting of Ben Ali in 2011, the country could have easily fallen into an escalating climate of instability and unrest.

Instead there was this "culture of referring to constitutional law" says Salah.

And that alone meant the country was able to steer itself using its own resources towards elections that saw Essebsi be democratically elected.

Many credit President Essebsi for his efforts at the start of the post-revolution Tunisia for helping to stabilize the country.

"Meaning there were different political directions on the table just after the revolution. There was the exclusion of certain political parties, and there was also [a] high risk of terrorism" and certain parties which did not have a problem with radical Islamism notes the writer.

But Essebsi "helped push the latter aside" and make efforts to include the more moderate parties into the political scene.

That move alone ensured this new Tunisia had a diverse range of parties "which was extremely important in stabilizing" the country and ultimately avoiding the fate that other countries in the region are still battling.

Electoral law

One issue left in the wake of his death is the controversial electoral law.

In June, the Tunisian parliament ratified the bill that would pass a revised legislation that would essentially ban candidates who resort to political advertising or distribute welfare help to the population.

That type of amendment would essentially slap a safeguard in place against what Salah calls "undesirable people or parties".

The Tunisian government itself said it was merely fixing loopholes that could allow populist politicians to use unfair tactics to attract support.

The ratified bill was put to Essebsi at the start of the week, but it was sent back without his signature says Salah.

So it's not clear if the President was physically unable to sign it into or law or if he chose to avoid it because it means a certain segment of the population would be excluded from participating in the upcoming polls, which have now been moved to October rather than November.

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