TUNIS, Tunisia, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Tunisia's incumbent President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali won re-election by a landslide amid protests from activists but plaudits from neighbors and allies, including a warm telephone call from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ben Ali's return to office was a foregone conclusion; the only question not answered was the percentage of his win, Reporters sans Frontiers said as it listed restrictions on the media before the poll on Sunday.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States was concerned about the election outcome and Tunisia's refusal to allow international election monitors.
"We were not -- we are not aware that permission was granted to any credible independent observers," Kelly said.
But he said the Obama administration was "committed to working with the president of Tunisia and his government to advance the partnership between Tunisia and the United States. We'll continue to pursue bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and we'll continue to press for political reform and respect for human rights."
Analysts cited Ben Ali's election win as part of a familiar pattern in the developing world, where strong economic performance is contrasted with tough conditions for the country's democratic processes.
Tunisia has thrived on a quiet and tacit support from Europe and pro-West Arab neighbors since Ben Ali became president in 1987. He assumed power after declaring the man who named him prime minister months earlier, President Habib Bourguiba, clinically senile and unfit to govern. He has silenced critics that challenged him, more vigorously after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that allowed him -- as other leaders -- to isolate foes in an over-arching war on terror.
The government said Ben Ali won 89.62 percent of the vote, a markedly modest win when compared with his previous record of 94 percent in 2004 -- itself a virtual setback after previous landslides of 99.2 and 99.7 percent. Critics scoff at the percentages.
Although most of the serious challengers to Ben Ali were absent from the contest, as they were banned on grounds of extremist or radical tendencies, the poll did produce losers and runners-up. Runner-up Mohamed Bouchiha won 5.01 percent and Ahmed Inoubli 3.80 percent of the vote. Neither is considered to be a serious threat to Ben Ali.
About 89.45 percent of Tunisia's 5.3 million voters turned out to vote, officials said. Of the 214 members of Parliament chosen, 161 went to Ben Ali's Constitutional and Democratic Rally, and the rest were shared among minor opposition and independent parties.
Criticism of the election process is lost on Ben Ali's friends. Morocco's King Mohammed VI in his congratulatory message said the poll demonstrated Tunisians' confidence in Ben Ali "as a wise, sensible leader" as well as their attachment to the president. Sarkozy called Ben Ali to congratulate him and to celebrate growth in French-Tunisian relations.