Tunisia’s first democratically elected president Beji Caid Essebsi has died at the age 0f 92.
Essebsi was one of the world’s oldest leaders. He died at Tunisia military hospital on Thursday morning according to the statement from the presidency.
The president’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi told AFP that his dad was hospitalized with severe illness in June and he was returned to intensive care on Thursday.
Essebsi became Prime Minister of Tunisia in 2011 following the toppling of Zine El Adidine Ben Ali before he was elected president in 2014 becoming the country’s first democratically elected president following the “Arab Spring” uprising.
He helped to draft a new democratic constitution for Tunisia that guaranteed fundamental rights including freedom of speech as well as preparing the country for free and fair elections when he was still Prime Minister.
Essebsi also championed a successful power-sharing deal between his movement, the Nidaa Tounes and Islamist party Ennahda, a move that helped to stabilize Tunisia amid growing upheaval and violence in the region in countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Though Essebsi was lauded for keeping Tunisia a democratic in a troubled region, he was accused of attempting to hand over power to his son, neglecting some of the post-revolution freedoms, and failing to deliver justice to some of the authoritarian rule victims.
Recently, Essebsi had announced that he would not be running in the November election, admitting that a younger country should be given an opportunity to lead the country.
Since Essebsi was hospitalized in June, there have been growing concerns about a potential power vacuum in the country ahead of the November polls.
Tunisia’s constitution gives two provisions in case the president is declared unable to lead the country;
The prime minister will assume the president’s roles for a period of not more than 60 days. In case the vacancy is longer, the speaker of parliament takes over the responsibilities up to 90 days.
The constitutional court is the one to take the decision in both cases after validating the president’s incapacity though Tunisia is yet to set up one, 8 years after the uprising.
According to constitutional experts, the speaker of parliament is likely to take over the president’s roles for about 2 months with elections to be organized immediately or to wait for the scheduled period of between October and December for polls.
According to the election roadmap already drawn, parliamentary elections are to take place on October 6, followed by presidential elections on November 17.
This will be the third time the people of Tunisia go to polls to vote freely since the 2011 uprising.
Although Tunisia has been praised as faring far better than some of the countries in the region like Libya and Syria in terms of stability, the country is still going through a very bad economic crisis characterized by class divides and poverty.
The weak growth rate and low employment in the country have resulted into the unemployment rising to 15 percent from 12 percent in 2010.
Political and economic analysts say that Tunisia has done well to avoid the violence seen elsewhere in the Middle East since the 2011 “Arab Spring” though it has been a target of the Islamic State fighters over the years. There is still despair in the country though compared to other countries, there is hope that Tunisia will finally fix her path and attain the fundamental prosperity.