Tunisia's prime minister annouces bid for presidency

Elections were been called early after the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi last week

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, right, welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron, upon his arrival at Tunis Carthage airport in Tunis, Tunisia, Saturday, July 27, 2019.  International dignitaries are among those who will attend Saturday’s funeral ceremony for the country’s first democratically elected president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in office at 92.(AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)
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Tunisia's liberal prime minister is planning to run in early elections called after President Beji Caid Essebsi died last week, making him one of the most likely frontrunners in the race for the top job.

Caid Essebsi, 92, a secularist who helped guide the transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, was buried at a state funeral on Saturday.

The speaker of parliament has been sworn in as interim president to lead the country to a new election.

Slim Azzabi, secretary-general the Tahya Tounes party, announced that prime minister Youssef Chahed would make a bid for the presidency.

The party, which split off from Caid Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes party this year, is now the biggest liberal group in Tunisia's parliament. It governs in coalition with the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party and a smaller liberal group.

Ennahda has not yet named its candidate for the presidency.

Other candidates who have announced their intention to stand include liberal former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, and Moncef Marzouki, who served as interim president for three years after autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from office. Caid Essebsi was then chosen in the first democratic presidential election in 2014.

epa07744473 Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (2-L) and interim president Mohamed Ennaceur (3-L) receive condolences from state guests during the state funeral of late president Beji Caid Essebsi at the presidential palace in the eastern suburb of Carthage, Tunis, Tunisia, 27 July 2019. Essebsi, the country's first head of state elected in nationwide polls, died on 25 July at the age of 92, triggering fears of political unrest in a country seen as a rare success story following the Arab Spring uprisings.  EPA/FETHI BELAID / POOL  MAXPPP OUT
Beji Caid Essebsi Essebsi, the country's first head of state elected in nationwide polls, died on 25 July at the age of 92, triggering early elections. EPA

Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, and the only country where those revolts were followed by a peaceful transition to democracy.

Nevertheless, it remains mired in a severe economic crisis that has fuelled social discontent.

A presidential election due in November this year will now be held two months early following the death of Caid Essebsi.

Tunisia's president mainly has authority over foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.

The state-run Tunisia News Agency reported last week that the president was taken to a military hospital in the capital but passed away a few hours later.

It was the second time he had been hospitalised in recent weeks, and a video released by the president's office days before he died showed him visibly weakened as he met with the defence minister. The clip raised concerns about his fitness for office.

Caid Essebsi passed away on Tunisia’s Republic Day, where he was expected to give an address.