TUNIS, Tunisia, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Beji Caid Essebsi was sworn in as the new president of Tunisia, becoming the first freely elected leader of the North African country since it gained independence from France in 1956.
Essebsi, a former prime minister and leader of the secular Nidaa Tounes party, won the presidential election in a Dec. 21 runoff against dissident leader and interim President Moncef Marzouki.
The Nidaa Tounes party, an alliance of liberals, secularists and former government leaders, was formed in response to the post-revolution actions of the Ennahda party in power. Nidaa Tournes has been critical of the Islamist drift of the country and has called for a progressive and secular society in Tunisia.
Essebsi took the oath of office at a ceremony Wednesday in the Parliament. Photos of the event were posted to the president's official Facebook page.
The 88-year-old new president is considered one of the Tunisian republic's founders, having served as Minister of Interior under then-President Habib Bourguiba following independence from France.
Essebsi's legacy as a skilled politician and political reformer, which he highlighted throughout the campaign, is not however without tarnish.
"He carries some responsibility for the repression and torture under the Bourguiba dictatorship," said Mokhtar Yahyaoui, a former judge who claims to know Essebsi personally. Essebsi also served as prime minister under longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced out of office by the Jasmine Revolution in January 2011.
"We have to see whether he is going to adapt the party to the new Tunisia, or whether the new Tunisia will have to adopt to the party," Yahyaoui said.
In his first speech after winning the election, Essebsi attempted to assuage concerns by vowing to protect the freedoms gained since the 2011 revolution and to move a united Tunisia forward.