EU observer says optimistic about Tunisia vote

AFP-Reuters , Wednesday 21 Sep 2011

The head of the EU mission to observe Tunisia's election next month Michael Gahler says he is optimistic about the first democratic experience in the post-Ben Ali reign


The head of the European Union mission to observe Tunisia's election next month Michael Gahler said on Wednesday he was optimistic about the first test of the country's democracy since it ousted its leader in a revolution.

Tunisians electrified the Arab world in January when popular protests toppled autocratic president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The country will vote on Oct. 23 to choose an assembly which will draw up a new constitution.

"There are many things that prompt us to be optimistic," Gahler, a member of the European parliament and head of the mission, told reporters.

"Compared to my experience earlier in Pakistan in 2008 (when a parliamentary election was held), the internal security situation in Tunisia does not raise concern ... The situation is better here," he said.

In a statement released in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc would give Tunisia's new authorities their full support as they try to build democratic institutions.

"These elections represent an historical moment in the transition process of Tunisia towards democracy. For the first time, Tunisian citizens will have the opportunity to freely choose their representatives," she said.

An EU mission consisting of 150 observers -- the largest international mission that will monitor the elections -- will soon start deploying to different parts of the country in preparation for the vote.

The observer mission will deploy in 27 voting districts at the invitation of the Tunisian government and will comprise experts and MPs from European Union member states as well as Norway, Switzerland and Canada, mission head Gahler told journalists.

A group of 54 observers and 10 experts in politics, law and media have already arrived in Tunis.

Diplomats of countries represented in Tunis and 15 European Parliament members will also take part in the monitoring on election day, October 23.

The observers will act independently of the institutions of the EU and its member states, and will have the task to "analyse the electoral process and present a precise, detailed and impartial evaluation," Gahler said -- "without intervention or control over what happens."

The first conclusions will be published two days after the vote and a final report after two months.

Gahler said there was much reason for optimism in "a much more positive security climate".

"Our mission is totally different from those which took place under the former regime," he said, adding: "our methods are objective and impartial".

For the first time an observer mission will also analyse the contents of the written and broadcast media during the election period.

The mission will have an initial budget of 3.2 million euros ($4.4 million), its deputy head Maria Espinosa said.

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