(Reuters) - Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is on course to win a fifth term in office by a massive margin, early results from the North African country’s presidential election indicate.
Here are some details about his rule:
* Ben Ali, 73, has been widely credited with ensuring political stability and strong economic growth but critics accuse him of running roughshod over human rights and democratic values.
* Ben Ali came to power in November 1987, six weeks after becoming prime minister, when he arranged for doctors to declare president-for-life and founder of modern Tunisia Habib Bourguiba senile and unfit to rule.
* He was elected unopposed for a first five-year mandate in 1989 and re-elected, as sole candidate again, in 1994.
* In 1999, Ben Ali won a new five-year mandate with 99.4 percent of the vote, despite the introduction of multi-party politics. The figure raised eyebrows in the West and human rights groups called the election a sham.
* A referendum in 2002 on a new constitution allowing Ben Ali to theoretically extend his rule until 2014 was approved by more than 99 percent of voters.
* Ben Ali won 94.4 percent of the vote in the last election in 2004, trouncing several candidates from small opposition parties.
* The government has said repeatedly it is committed to increasing civil liberties. Ben Ali promised earlier this month to expand democracy and reduce unemployment if he won another five-year term. Rights groups and some political opponents say Tunisia’s government is authoritarian with a veneer of pluralism. They say it stifles free speech and beats and jails opponents, something the government denies.
* Ben Ali was born in September 1936 in Hammam Sousse in the Sahel, near the city of Sousse.
* Educated in France and the United States, while still a young staff officer he created in 1964 the Military Security Department which he ran for 10 years. In 1974, he was appointed military attache to Morocco and Spain and then Director General of National Security in December 1977.
* He was appointed as Tunisia’s ambassador in Warsaw from 1980 to 1984. He became minister of national security from 1984-86 and then interior minister in 1986-87 and prime minister in October 1987.
* Ben Ali is the ubiquitous face of Tunisia. His portrait adorns practically every shop and public building.
Writing by Maghreb bureau and David Cutler