Marzouki reprimanded for doubting Tunisia vote integrity

Tunisia’s incumbent President Moncef Marzouki says he has ‘no problem with the other side winning’ but has problem ‘if they win through fraud’

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Tunisia’s incumbent President Moncef Marzouki was reprimanded by the electoral commission on Thursday for saying the only way he could lose this month’s run-off vote would be through fraud.

Marzouki came second to Beji Caid Essebsi in the first round of polling last month, and will face him again on December 21.

“I have no problem with the other side winning, but I have a problem if they win through fraud,” he said in remarks in Tunis on Tuesday.

“May everyone be a soldier against fraud,” he added before later saying on the radio: “Without fraud, they won’t beat me.”

The electoral commission called on both men Thursday to “respect the principles of the campaign,” saying it had sent “a warning to the candidate who had called into question the integrity of the election.”

Commission chairman Chafik Sarsar said he was disturbed by the “irresponsible declarations.”

On Wednesday, Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party called Marzouki’s remarks a “threat to social peace and incitement to... chaos.”

In the first round Essebsi took 39.46 percent of votes cast among 27 candidates and Marzouki 33.43 percent.

The election in the North African nation is the first time its people have been able to vote freely for their head of state since independence from France in 1956.

The ouster in 2011 of longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali set off a chain of revolts that saw several Arab dictators toppled by citizens demanding democratic reform.

The country’s leaders pride themselves on the fact that Tunisia has been largely spared the bloodshed that has hit other Arab Spring states such as Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

But it faces significant challenges, including a jihadist threat, a weak economy and social unrest.

Marzouki, 69, was exiled during Ben Ali’s rule and was elected president at the end of 2011 by an interim assembly under a coalition deal with the then-ruling Islamist party Ennahda.

Essebsi, 88, held key positions under Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisia’s independence, and Ben Ali.

Marzouki’s camp has portrayed him as the last line of defense against a return to the autocratic ways of the old regime, while Essebsi derides the incumbent as an Islamist pawn.

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