Tunisian President, Beji Caid Essebsi

Tunisia's President has died at the age of 92 on Thursday.

Iran Press/Africa: One of the world's oldest leaders, Beji Caid Essebsi, who was Tunisia's first democratically elected president, died at the Tunis military hospital on Thursday morning, the presidency said in a statement. 

According to Al Jazeera, he was hospitalized with a severe illness in late June, but returned to intensive care on Thursday, his son said. Earlier, Hafedh Caid Essebsi told AFP news agency that "things are not going well".

Drafted in as a prime minister in 2011 after longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, Essebsi was elected president three years later, becoming the country's first directly elected head of state after its popular uprising.

As prime minister, he helped draft a new democratic constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and preparing Tunisia for free elections.

He also co-brokered a historic power-sharing deal between his Nidaa Tounes movement and Islamist party Ennahda that helped to steady the country.

Democracy in danger

Critics accused Essebsi of attempting a dynastic handover to his son, rowing back on some post-revolution freedoms, and failing to support a truth commission seeking justice for the victims of authoritarian rule.

Essebsi recently announced he would not run in an election scheduled for November, saying a younger person should lead the country. 

Concerns had been growing about a potential power vacuum in Tunisia ahead of the November elections after the president was hospitalized three times in recent weeks.

The prime minister can take over the president's responsibilities for a period of no more than 60 days. If the vacancy is longer, the speaker of parliament is tasked with the role for up to 90 days.

In both cases, the decision must be taken by a constitutional court after it validates the president's incapacity. But eight years after the popular uprising, Tunisia has yet to set up a constitutional court.

Temporary president and new elections

According to Reuters, 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.

Parliamentary elections are expected to be held on Oct. 6 with a presidential vote following on Nov. 17. They will be the third set of polls in which Tunisians have been able to vote freely following the 2011 revolution.


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