President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been in office for 23 years, taking over when the former president, Habib Bourguiba, became ill. His tenure started amid much civil unrest and a bombing campaign by an Islamist movement. Ben Ali said on Thursday he would leave office at the end of his term in 2014.
Ben Ali has called for elections within six months. While Ben Ali has presided over a period of rapid economic growth, that growth has been uneven. Ben Ali has been facing mass demonstrations and calls for his resignation since last month as people have protested the high price of food and continuing high unemployment.
Tunisia has been criticised by groups such as Amnesty International for its repressive tactics against opponents of the current regime. Opposition groups have also complained of widespread corruption, and the outsized control of the economy wielded by the Trabelsi family, which controls many of the largest enterprises.
Elections were held in 2009, but no independent observers were allowed to monitor the vote, and Ben Ali won a victory with 89 percent of the ballot.