|On 24 October 2004, over 4.6 million Tunisians were called upon to vote in presidential and legislative elections.
Four candidates ran for president. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who became the second President of Tunisia since independence when he succeeded Habib Bourguiba 17 years earlier had embarked on a policy of change based on economic modernisation. His regime had nonetheless often come under criticism from the opposition, international NGOs and human rights activists, who denounced police repression, violation of freedoms, "window-dressing pluralism" and the muzzling of the press. The authorities, on the other hand, pointed to "constant progress" in the field of democracy, noting that in 1994 Mr. Ben Ali allowed the entry into parliament of the legal opposition. In 1999, he won the first pluralist presidential election with an official tally of 99.44 per cent of the vote. In May 2002, Mr. Ben Ali had the Tunisian Constitution amended by referendum, thus allowing him to seek a fourth five-year mandate in 2004. His opponents criticised that amendment, which they considered "paved the way for a life presidency".
The President faced two candidates from the parliamentary opposition: Mr. Mohamed Bouchiha of the Popular Unity Party (PUP) and Mr. Mounir El Béji of the Liberal Social Party (PSL). The other candidate was Mr. Mohamed Ali Halouani, who ran under the "Democratic Initiative" banner, a grouping of independent figures around the Ettajdid Movement (former communists); he tried to make his voice heard, despite the fact that his election manifesto was confiscated for being excessively critical of the incumbent President and his regime.
Seven parties and political groupings put forward some 300 candidates for the 189 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. President Ben Ali's party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) party, called for continuing the momentum gained in pursuing its policy of change. Most of the opposition parties, while recognising the legitimacy of past choices and the seriousness with which they were implemented, focused on specific issues where they believed the reforms should go further.
The President's regime offered numerous assurances that the elections would be "transparent", and promised progress in democratisation. Opponents and freedom advocates denounced the conditions of the election, in particular the pressures preventing them from campaigning and their lack of media access. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), during the campaign Tunisians were deprived of independent information in the media. The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), an opposition party, withdrew from the parliamentary elections. That party, led by the lawyer Néjib Chebbi, had been in contention in 16 of the 26 districts. It called for a boycott of the presidential election, from which it had been excluded from the outset, as it had had no deputies in the parliament. The party's leaders said the party withdrew because it had been censored; the authorities had banned its election manifesto, which they had deemed to be in violation of the Electoral Code.
International observers from the League of Arab States, the African Union and the International Organisation of la Francophonie monitored the voting. A representative of the Francophonie declared that the electoral operations had taken place in a democratic climate. The Tunisian Human Rights League denounced the presidential score as 'an aberration in a true democracy'.
More than 4.2 million electors participated in the elections. The President was re-elected to a fourth five-year term, having received 94.48 per cent of the vote, according to the official, final figures released the day after the election. Mr. Mohamed Bouchiha and Mr. Mounir Béji of the PSL respectively received 3.78 and 0.79 per cent of the vote, with Mr. Mohamed Ali Halouani receiving 0.95 per cent.
Seven political parties presented candidate lists in the 25 constituencies for seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The President's party, the RCD, received 87.59 per cent of the votes cast in the parliamentary elections, obtaining 152 of the 189 seats in parliament. Five of the six legal opposition parties in contention shared the other 37 seats. The MDS obtained 14 seats, the PUP 11, the Unionist Democratic Union (UDU) seven, the Ettajdid Movement three and the PSL two. The proportion of women representatives increased from 11.54 per cent to 22.75 per cent with the election of the Chamber.
On 17 November 2004 President Ben Ali was sworn in before the Chamber of Deputies during a special sitting. The same day, Mr. Fouad Mbazaa was re-elected as Speaker.