News24

Chebbi drops presidential bid

2009-08-26 10:19

Tunis - The founder of a leading opposition movement in Tunisia pulled out of the presidential race on Tuesday, citing a lack of transparency in the campaign.

Nejib Chebbi's announcement leaves incumbent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali facing four other candidates for the October 25 elections. The 72-year-old president, who has ruled this North African nation for more than two decades, is widely expected to win another five-year mandate.

Chebbi said he was driven to pull out of the running because of "the absence of minimal conditions of freedom, of honesty and transparency" in the campaign. He said the election would result in "authoritarianism and presidency-for-life".

Chebbi, a 62-year-old lawyer, was kept out of the last elections, in 2004, because his party did not have a seat in parliament.

Door of hope

Chebbi's Democratic Progressive Party, or PDP, is considered the primary legal opposition group in Tunisia. He ceded the leadership of the party in 2006 to Maya Jribi, the first woman to lead a Tunisian political party.

Speaking at a news conference that included several western diplomats, Chebbi said the government should "assume responsibility for closing the door of hope to Tunisia's youth and the people in general".

This largely Muslim country has among the lowest rates of illiteracy and poverty in the region and has been praised for its efforts supporting women's rights. But Ben Ali's government is also routinely criticised by human rights groups for its lack of freedom of expression and stern handling of political opponents.

He won his fourth term in 2004 elections marred by an opposition boycott. He was given nearly 95% of that vote.