Exit polls from Tunisia's presidential runoff show veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi as the winner. The poll is seen as a last step to democracy after the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi (above right) has claimed victory in Tunisia's presidential run-off on Sunday - a claim that is backed by exit poll results.
Exit polls from the company Sigma Conseil, which have always reliably predicted official results in the North African country, showed Essebsi with 55.5 percent of the vote to 44.5 percent for outgoing interim president Moncef Marzouki (above left).
Results from other polling companies have shown similar counts. Voter turnout, which rose only slowly through the day, was put at 56 percent of the country's 5.2 million eligible voters by 17.00 UTC (6 p.m. local time), when polls closed.
Julilant Essebsi supporters took to the streets of the capital, Tunis, following his announcement, but Marzouki has not conceded defeat. An official from Marzouki's campaign said the election was very close and that nothing had been confirmed, with provisional official results not expected until Tuesday.
Former Ben Ali official
The 88-year-old Essebsi served as a high-ranking official both under the founder of independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, and his successor, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown four years ago in a pro-democracy uprising.
After the 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, which has lead parliament since October elections, to oppose the Islamists. He won 39 percent of votes in the first-round presidential ballot in November, with Marzouki gaining 33 percent.
A presidential victory for Essebsi means he would dominate both the executive and legislative branches of government, fueling fears in some quarters of a return to an authoritarian style of government.
The new president will face some security challenges, with suspected Islamist insurgents carrying out occasional attacks, mainly on security forces.
Early on Sunday morning, a gunman was killed and three arrested after opening fire on a polling station in the central Kairouan governorate.
However, Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings, is widely seen as the only success story of the Arab revolutionary movements, having avoided the conflicts that have ensued in other countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.
tj/cd (dpa, Reuters, AP)