Beji Caid Essebsi has been sworn in as Tunisia’s president after winning the country’s first free presidential poll.
Beji Caid Essebsi, 88, secured victory last week over incumbent Moncef Marzouki.
His triumph means Tunisia – where the Arab Spring began – remains the only Arab country to move from authoritarian rule to democracy in that period.
On December 29, electoral authorities confirmed that Beji Caid Essebsi had won a run-off vote against Moncef Marzouki.
The new president took his oath of office at a ceremony in the newly elected parliament – where his party Nidaa Tounes also holds the largest number of seats.
The swearing in comes four years after protests that eventually toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Journalist Naveena Kottoor in Tunis says that while this is the latest democratic milestone for Tunisia, many in the country are arguing that political transition will only succeed if newly-elected politicians usher in social and economic changes.
Beji Caid Essebsi has urged all Tunisians to “work together” for stability but critics say his win marks the return of a discredited establishment, pointing out that he served under President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
This month’s vote was the first time Tunisians have been able to vote freely for their president since independence from France in 1956.
The new president will have restricted powers under a constitution passed earlier this year.
Beji Caid Essebsi will be commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can appoint or sack senior officers only in consultation with the prime minister.
Tunisia is voting in the first presidential election since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution that triggered uprisings across the region.
Twenty seven candidates are in the race, but incumbent Moncef Marzouki and anti-Islamist leader Beji Caid Essebsi are widely seen as the favorites.
The poll forms part of a political transition after the revolution that ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
A parliamentary vote was held in October.
Tunisia – seen as the birthplace of the Arab Spring – is considered to have had the most successful outcome, with relatively low levels of violence.
Today’s election will deliver the country’s first directly elected leader since the removal of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Most polling stations were opening at 08:00 and due to close 10 hours later.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a run-off round will be held on December 31.
“We were the first to enter this cycle of change which they have called the Arab Spring,” PM Mehdi Jomaa was quoted as saying on the eve of the poll.
“We will be the first [to make the transition] but others will follow,” he added.
Beji Caid Essebsi, from the Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia’s Call) party, is the favorite to win after his party came first in the parliamentary election.
However, critics say Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old who served in the governments of post-independence leader Habib Bourguiba as well as Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, represents the past.
Among the other candidates are Moncef Marzouki, parliamentary Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, Republican Party leader Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, female magistrate Kalthoum Kannou and businessman Slim Riahi.
The Islamist party Ennahda, which led Tunisia’s last government but was beaten by Nidaa Tounes in October’s parliamentary election, did not field a candidate.
A statement from Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi spoke of wanting “to avoid deepening polarization or dividing the country”. Ennahda’s rise had led to concerns among more secular-minded Tunisians that Islamists would dominate politics.
Tunisia is still facing the specter of civil unrest and terrorism, with Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou warning of “serious security threats” near the Algerian border where al-Qaeda militants are said to be hiding.
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has resigned after failing to reach agreement on forming a new government.
Hamadi Jebali had been trying to form a new coalition in response to the political crisis sparked by the killing of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.
He had said he would quit if his Islamist Ennahda party did not back his plan for a cabinet of technocrats.
Chokri Belaid’s assassination on 6 February provoked mass protests and resignations from Tunisia’s coalition government.
“I vowed that if my initiative did not succeed, I would resign and I have done so,” Hamadi Jebali told a news conference after meeting President Moncef Marzouki.
Describing his step as “a big disappointment”, he said he was standing down to “fulfill a promise made to the people.”
“Our people are disillusioned by the political class. We must restore confidence,” he stressed.
And he added: “The failure of my initiative does not mean the failure of Tunisia or the failure of the revolution,” in a reference to the popular unrest two years ago that ousted autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has resigned after failing to reach agreement on forming a new government
Hamadi Jebali’s resignation comes despite comments by Ennahda’s leader Rached Ghannouchi on Monday that all parties involved in the coalition building talks had wanted the prime minister to remain in office.
Opposition supporters have blamed Ennahda for Mr Belaid’s assassination – an accusation the party denies.
Chokri Belaid’s killing was the first political assassination in Tunisia since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
The assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid outside his home this morning has prompted violent protests in Tunisia.
Relatives say Chokri Belaid was shot in the neck and head on his way to work.
Chokri Belaid was a prominent secular opponent of the moderate Islamist-led government and his murder has sparked protests around the country, with police firing tear gas to disperse angry crowds.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has condemned the killing and is cutting short a visit to France to return home.
He has also cancelled a scheduled appearance at a summit in Egypt to return home.
Tunisia is currently gripped by political crisis as talks on a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle to include a wider range of parties in a coalition led by the Ennahda party have broken down.
This is the first time a political leader has been assassinated since the Arab Spring uprising of January 2011, in a country where political assassinations are rare.
Speaking in front of the European Parliament on his visit to Strasbourg, President Moncef Marzouki said the murder of Chokri Belaid should not affect Tunisia’s revolution.
“There are many enemies of our peaceful revolution. And they’re determined to ensure it fails,” he said.
Referring to Chokri Belaid as a “long-standing friend”, he said his “hateful assassination” was a threat.
“This is a letter being sent to us that we will refuse to open. We reject that message and we will continue to unmask the enemies of the revolution,” said the president, who was to participate in the summit of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation in Cairo on Thursday and is instead returning home directly from Strasbourg.
The assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid outside his home this morning has prompted violent protests in Tunisia
According to AFP news agency, people torched the premises of the Ennahda party in the central town of Mezzouna, and ransacked the party’s offices in the mining town of Gafsa in protest at Chokri Belaid’s death.
In Tunis, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered outside the interior ministry, it reports.
Crowds had been chanting they want a “second revolution”.
Police also fired tear gas at demonstrators in Sidi Bouzid, the town where the revolution that toppled Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from the presidency began a little more than two years ago, AFP reports.
It is not known who is responsible for the attack on the politician.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said his murder was an “act of terrorism” and promised to pursue all efforts to “immediately” arrest the murderer.
Chokri Belaid was the coordinator of the left-leaning Democratic Patriots party, part of a group of opposition parties which has been challenging the government since it came to power following the country’s first post-Arab Spring election in October 2011.
“This murder robs Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices,” French President Francois Hollande said in a statement.
On Saturday, Chokri Belaid accused “mercenaries” hired by the Ennahda party of carrying out an attack on a Democratic Patriots meeting.
The Paris-based France 24 TV station has reported that Chokri Belaid reportedly received recent death threats.
It said that he died in hospital after being shot by “three men in a black vehicle”.
“My brother was assassinated. I am desperate and depressed,” Chokri Belaid’s brother Abdelmajid Belaid told AFP.
Correspondents say that although Chokri Belaid’s party did not have a large share of the election vote, it spearheaded popular concern over the rising level of political violence in Tunisia.