Voters in Tunisia have elected an 88-year-old former parliamentary speaker as their new president according to exit polls. Beji Caid Essebsi has gained a majority and declared victory in the second round of voting.
Official results aren't expected until sometime on Monday, but shortly after the polls closed on Sunday evening, Beji Caid Essebsi announced that he had won Tunisia's presidential run-off election.
"I dedicate my victory to the martyrs of Tunisia," Essebsi told local television.
Speaking to a crowd of a couple of thousand of his supporters outside of his campaign headquarters, Essebsi struck a unifying tone.
"Tunisia needs all its children. We must work hand in hand," he said.
Figures released by polling companies supported Essebsi's claim to victory.
Sigma Conseil gave him 55.5 percent of the vote and his opponent Moncef Marzouki, the outgoing interim president, 44.5 percent. Other polls gave Essebsi between 52 and 54 percent.
Election organizers put the turnout for the run-off at just over 59 percent.
Despite the evidence against him, Marzouki, however, has so far refused to concede defeat.
His camp insisted that the outcome was too close to call and said they would wait until the official results were known to comment on the result.
At the same time though, Marzouki congratulated his fellow countrymen on how the election was conducted, saying that it had shown that Tunisia had"banished the fake elections of the past which were won by percentages of 99.99 percent."
Essebsi also finished first in the first round of the presidential polls, taking 39 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Marzouki.
Back to the future?
Essebsi is no stranger to Tunisian politics, having served as a high-ranking official both under the founder of independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, and his successor, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It was the uprising that toppled Ben Ali in 2011 that kicked off a series of revolts that came to be known as the Arab Spring.
After Ben Ali's ouster, the moderate Islamist party Ennahda dominated politics in Tunisia, but was unable to meet the challenges posed by an ailing economy and political unrest, including terrorist attacks.
Essebsi formed his secular Nida Tunis coalition to oppose the Islamists and he is now poised to consolidate power, as Nida Tunis came out on top in October's parliamentary election. This has led to some concerns of a return to an authoritarian style of government in Tunis.
pfd/es (Reuters/AP, AFP)