Tunisia’s President Essebsi dies ahead of November poll
Tunisian president Béji Caïd Essebsi has died at the age of 92, the presidency announced on Thursday.
The first democratically elected president of the country died at 10.25am on Thursday morning at the Tunis Military Hospital after being hospitalised on Wednesday evening, according to the statement.
Early on Thursday morning there was a sense of panic with various information circulating about his state of health. Before the presidency officially announced his death, Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, son of the deceased president, posted a picture of the latter appearing to wave goodbye on his Facebook page, without comment.
In Tunisian protocol, the parliamentary president becomes acting president in the event of a sitting president passing away.
- However, a meeting of the Constitutional Court is essential to formally declare the absence of a president and establish the interim period “for a period of at least 45 days and 90 days at most”. This body has not yet been set up.
On 27 June, the Tunisian head of state was rushed to the military hospital in Tunis after a “serious illness”. For a time, his hospitalisation raised doubts about whether the legal deadline for calling elections would be respected.
Finally, on 5 July – one day before the deadline – Caïd Essebsi signed the decree calling Tunisian voters to the polls for the legislative elections on 6 October and the presidential elections on 17 November.
During his first meeting with Béji Caïd Essebsi after his hospitalisation, the head of government, Youssef Chahed, raised the dangers of a power vacuum, hoping to negotiate the terms of the president’s withdrawal from public life.
“Compromise, yes, but never submission,” Essebsi said, according to his relatives, before ending the meeting. He refused to negotiate further on the retirement proposed by the head of government.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.