|During his 23 years of rule, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sidelined all rivals and kept a tight lid on political debate [AFP]|
Tunisians have opened a new chapter in their history after the man who dominated the country for the past two decades, was driven from power on Friday by violent protests over soaring unemployment and corruption.
During his 23 years of iron-fisted rule, ex-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sidelined all rivals and kept a tight lid on political debate, making it difficult to predict who might succeed him.
News reports selected the following names as the possible candidates:
Mohammed Ghannouchi, who was prime minister under Ben Ali since 1999, is now caretaker president.
|Interim president, Mohammed Ghannouchi [AFP]|
He said he was taking over because the head of state was temporarily unable to carry out his duties.
A trained economist and technocrat, Ghannouchi is nicknamed “Tunisia’s computer” because of his knowledge of economic issues.
People who have seen him operate say he is charismatic and a good communicator, but that he does not have any personal political ambitions. There were media reports last year that he was planning to quit politics and take a job in a bank.
It therefore seems unlikely he will be a candidate in presidential elections, but a lot can change in six months.
If he did decide to run, his biggest disadvantage would be that, in the public perception, he is closely associated with Ben Ali’s rule.
He has been a government minister since Ben Ali became president in 1987, is vice-president of the ruling RCD party, and he appeared several times in public to defend the government’s handling of the protests which eventually forced Ben Ali out.
|Tunisian foreign minister, Kamel Morjane [REUTERS]
Kamel Morjane was foreign minister until the government was dismissed on Friday, Morjane is an experienced diplomat who was the first senior Tunisian official to reach out to opposition parties.
Asked about the possibility of a coalition early on Friday on France’s Europe 1 radio, he said: “I believe it’s possible and even totally normal.”
Born on May 9, 1948, Morjane has been foreign minister for exactly one year. He studied in Geneva, the University of Wisconsin, and in the Hague, and worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
From 1996 he was Tunisia’s ambassador to UN institutions in Geneva. He served as defence minister from 2005 until he was moved to the foreign ministry.
Najib Chebbi, is an outspoken critic of the Tunisian authorities who stayed in the country while many of his opposition peers decided it was safer to go and live abroad.
He spent years being harassed by security forces, lambasted in the pro-government media and frustrated in his attempts to win elected office. At one point, he staged a hunger strike to protest at government repression.
He is being courted to join a coalition government and said he had been invited for a meeting with Ghannouchi.
|Progressive Democratic Party leader, Nejib Chebbi [EPA]|
“This is a crucial moment. There is a change of regime under way. Now it’s the succession,” he told France’s I-Tele TV. “It must lead to profound reforms, to reform the law and let the people choose.”
A lawyer by training, Chebbi is an extremely eloquent speaker who has long been seen by Western diplomats as the most credible figure in the opposition.
He founded the Progressive Democratic Party in the 1980s, and was its leader until 2006 when he stepped aside saying he wanted to provide an example of democratic change-over.
He applied to run in the 2009 presidential election but was ruled ineligible. Because of a media blackout imposed on Ben Ali opponents for many years, Chebbi is not well-known outside a small circle of intellectuals and opposition activists.
If he is to be a contender in the next presidential election, he will need to widen his appeal.