TUNIS, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- Tunisians started voting on Sunday in the country's presidential and parliamentary elections which are expected to give a new term to incumbent President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali casts his vote during the general elections in Carthage near Tunis Oct. 25, 2009. (Xinhua/TAP News Agency)
The 73-year-old head of state, who came to power in 1987 when doctors declared his predecessor unable to continue his duties, won the last election five years ago with 94.4 percent of the vote.
Three opponent candidates run for Sunday's poll, including Mohamed Bouchiha, general secretary of People's Unity Party, Ahmed Brahim, the head of Ettajdid (Renewal) Movement, and Ahmed Inoubli, the candidate of Unionist Democratic Union.
"Ben Ali is the best choice for us Tunisians. It was unthinkable to have stable and developed country two decades ago but look now everything he pledged to do was done," said Khaled Chihi, a 45-year-old teacher who was heading to the polling station.
In a television address on Saturday evening, Ben Ali said he ensured all necessary steps to guarantee transparent presidential and legislative elections and to consolidate democracy.
"I am convinced that when you go to the polls and exercise your right to choose, you will place, with freedom and conviction, Tunisia's interest and future above all other considerations," he added.
Tunisia's neighbors and partners had praised Ben Ali for ensuring political stability and strong economic performance.
Growth stood at an average of 5 percent over the past decade due to reforms to boost the private sector and improve investment climate.
Economists said the North African country has outperformed its neighbors as it becomes less dependent on volatile farming sector and more reliant on fast-growing service business and sectors with high added value.