Tunisia opens first election campaign since uprising

Reuters , Sunday 2 Oct 2011

Tunisia's cities were decorated with posters for hundreds of candidates from scores of new parties when campaigning began on Saturday for what is billed as the first free election in the country's history

Tunisia
Tunisians paste election posters on a wall in Tunis, Tunisia, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. The campaign for the first elections born of the revolts that swept the Middle East began in Tunisia on Saturday, featuring 81 political parties in a country where more than 90 percent of the vote used to be awarded to just one. (AP Photo)

Nine months after an uprising that deposed former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the Arab Spring, Tunisians elect politicians on Oct. 23 to an assembly that will rewrite the country's constitution.

Parties running candidates have agreed the assembly will sit for one year. An independent committee set up by Tunisia's caretaker government to oversee the poll said nearly 11,000 candidates would contest 218 seats in the assembly.

With some 110 parties taking part, many Tunisians say they are worried about how to make their choice after decades of widely criticised polls won by Ben Ali.

"There are many colours, there are multiple programmes and slogans," Khaled Okbi told Reuters as he read party policies posted on the wall of a school in the capital Tunis. "We still have enough time to choose, although it does not seem easy."

Some opposition parties say they fear the interim government may renege on its promise to lead Tunisia toward democracy and violent protests have erupted over delays in holding the poll.

"Ten thousand extra policemen will join the police in Tunisia to contribute to the success of the elections," interior ministry spokesman, Hichem Meddeb, told Reuters.

Political analysts expect Ennahda, an Islamic party, to win the most seats in the assembly. The Progressive Democratic Party and the Congress for the Republic are also expected to poll strongly.

Ennahda leader Rached Gannouchi began campaigning on Saturday with a huge rally in the town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the uprising that eventually overthrew Ben Ali.

"I am ready for these elections, which must succeed," Gannouchi told Reuters. "Because failure would be catastrophic to Tunisia and its neighbours in Europe as well."

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