Tunisia's new President Beji Caid Essebsi pledged to seek reconciliation and consensus after he was sworn in on Wednesday before the newly elected parliament to complete the country's democratic transition.
The 88-year-old Essebsi who run for office on an anti-Islamist platform won the race in December with 55.7 percent of the vote, against interim President Moncef Marzouki’s 44.3 percent.
Unlike in previous presidential elections where ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali persecuted his rivals, Tunisians this year were able to choose their favorite from a pool of 27 candidates.
“We will work today to replace fear with hope,” Essebsi said before parliament as he began his five-year term. “There is no future for Tunisia without consensus and without harmony between all the parties and civil society.”
He said his priorities would be to re-establish security and stability, create jobs and fight poverty.
Essebsi must now designate a prime minister from his party, Nida Tunis, to form a new coalition government.
The question remains whether the Islamists, who ran the country for two years and are the second-largest group in parliament, will be part of any new government.
Tunisians overthrew longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and inspired similar pro-democracy uprisings across North Africa and the Arab world, but only in Tunisia did fierce political rivals find common ground.
“This is the first time we reach a second round,” political analyst Noureddine Mbarki told Al Arabiya News. “The margin was little in the first round, and even the second round, 10% is the margin that we see in developed democratic countries.”
“We used to see 90% back in the day,” said Mbarki, referring to election results under the dictatorship of Ben Ali.
“Tunisians headed to voting polls three times in eight weeks. This is the first time it happens in Tunisia’s history.”
This year saw the first female presidential candidate, Judge Kalthoum Kannou. Analysts saw her candidacy as another milestone in the revolution.
Hailing the presidential vote, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time: “Tunisia has provided a shining example to the region and the world of what can be achieved through dedication to democracy, consensus, and an inclusive political process.”
He added: “Tunisia’s achievements this year laid the groundwork for a more stable, prosperous, and democratic future for the country.”
The European Union also offered congratulations. “Tunisians have written a historic page in the country’s democratic transition,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
However, the revolution is far from complete, said political analyst Sadeq Belaid: “What has been achieved... is only one stage. The old state model failed and brought about a revolution. Now we need to build a new model stone by stone.”
He added: “It’s not enough to have democratic institutions. There’s a lot of work to be done because the transition took longer than anticipated. This will take five to 10 years.”
(With additional reporting by Asma Ajroudi)