TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia's president has been re-elected in a landslide for a fifth, five-year term, the Interior Ministry announced Monday.
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali won 89.62 percent of Sunday's vote, the ministry said at a news conference. It was the lowest percentage of the vote Ben Ali has captured since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1987.
In 2004, he had more than 94 percent of the vote — a drop from his previous victories, which fluctuated between 99.2 and 99.7 percent.
The results from Sunday's presidential and legislative elections reflect the limited but somewhat increased visibility allowed rivals in the race. Runner-up Mohamed Bouchiha won 5.01 percent of the vote and Ahmed Inoubli 3.80 percent, but both were viewed as largely cosmetic opposition.
The third candidate, Ahmed Brahim of the Ettajdid, or the "change" movement, scored 1.57 percent of the vote.
"At least, we've established the existence of a credible opposition movement in Tunisia," Brahim said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. He declined to comment on his score.
Human rights groups and opposition members have criticized Ben Ali's regime for stifling liberties.
The turnout Sunday was 89.45 percent of Tunisia's 5.3 million voters, authorities said. Hard-line opposition groups and Islamists are outlawed and did not take part in the election.
Tunisians also chose 214 lawmakers for the lower house of parliament. Ben Ali's Constitutional and Democratic Rally, or RCD, which has been continuously in power since Tunisia's independence from France in 1956, won 161 seats. A sprinkling of small opposition and independent parties shared the remaining 53 seats.
At 73, Ben Ali was running for his last mandate under the current constitution, which sets the age limit for a presidential candidate at 75.
Many voters see continuity as a good thing in this Mediterranean vacation haven in North Africa, a strong U.S. and European ally and a relatively secular, moderate and stable outpost in the Arab world.
Prior to the lopsided victory, Ben Ali went on national television late Saturday, attacking any Tunisian who suggested that the election was unbalanced or fraudulent.
Twenty-six Tunisian electoral observers, 16 African Union observers and 11 people invited by Tunisian embassies in Europe and the Arab world monitored several thousand polling stations. All said the voting had gone well, and praised Tunisia for its strides toward democracy.
Despite widespread criticism of his regime by rights advocates, even Ben Ali's opponents acknowledge the results he has achieved in this small country that lacks any significant natural resources.
Tunisia is expecting 3 percent growth in gross domestic product this year despite the global recession. The country's poverty rate has dropped below 4 percent and it is a regional model in terms of literacy, social welfare and the role women play in society.
Rights groups however deplore the country's overbearing police presence and general absence of any real freedom of expression.