Tunisia expects high turnout in Sunday's presidential election

Karem Yehia in Tunisia, Thursday 20 Nov 2014

Tunisians take to the polls next week for first competitive presidential election since 1956

In this photo taken Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, thousands of supporters of the Nidaa Tounes party led by Beji Caid Essebsi attend an electoral meeting in Tunis, Tunisia (Photo: AP)

Tunisia's electoral commission says it is expecting a high turnout for Sunday's presidential poll, more than last month's parliamentary elections which saw the secular Nidaa Tounes party defeat the Islamist Ennahda movement.

Tunisians abroad will start voting on Friday at 386 polling stations, in the run up to the country's first competitive democratic elections since its independence in 1956.

Al-Asaad Ibn Ahmed, head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE), told Ahram Online that 69 percent of Tunisians voted in October's parliamentary poll, while those abroad reached nearly 30 percent.

He explained that the ISIE expects next week's vote to be higher as Tunisians are more concerned with the presidential election.

Reported campaign violations have been varied, the official said, ranging between shredding other rivals' banners and posters and speeches that incite against the opposition.

Al-Asaad said the ISIE has delivered 20 files on electoral campaign violations to the prosecutor-general for investigation.

Meanwhile, Beiji Caed Essebsi, presidential candidate and head of Nidaa Tounes party, will end his electoral campaign and begin the period of electoral silence from Sfax City, the country's second city.

But his rival, interim President Moncef Al-Marzouki, hasn't yet decided when he will start his campaign's electoral silence.

Earlier this week five presidential candidates announced their withdrawal from the poll – Noureddine Hached, Mostafa Kamel Nabli, Abdel-Raouef Ayedi, Mohamed Hamdi and Abderrahim Zouari – citing "the dual polarisation between Essebsi and Marzouki."

However, the ISIE will keep the five candidates' names on the ballots as they withdrew after the deadline.

Tunisia has 5.28 million registered voters, said Al-Asaad, adding that 10,500 ballots have been distributed nationwide.

October's parliamentary vote saw Nidaa Tounes gain 85 seats (38.24 percent) in the 217-seat assembly, while the Islamist Ennahda movement came in second with 68 seats (31.33 percent).

Nidaa Tounes official Lazhar Akremi said in a statement to Bloomberg that a new government may be formed early next year.

"A new government is likely to be in place in January after the second round of presidential elections," he said.

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