Main parties in Tunisia's landmark election

Reuters , Saturday 22 Oct 2011

Tunisians vote on Sunday in their first ever democratic election which could set a template for other Arab countries emerging from the Arab Spring uprisings


Here are profiles of the leading parties in the Tunisian election, to elect an assembly which will draft a new constitution:

Ennahda- This is the Islamist party which is expected to win the biggest share of the vote, though probably not enough to give it a majority in the assembly. The party's name is the Arabic word for Renaissance.

It is led by Rachid Ghannouchi a Muslim scholar. He founded the party in 1981, with a group of other intellectuals who were inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. He spent 22 years in exile in London after Tunisia's leaders banned the party and jailed thousands of its followers.

Ben Ali accused Ennahda of involvement in violent plots to overthrow secular rule. Ghannouchi says that was fabricated to eliminate his movement as a political challenge.

Ghannouchi says Ennahda is a moderate and tolerant force. He says it will not try to impose its values on secularists and will respect women's rights. It has ideological ties to the moderate Islamist party of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

"The Ennahda supporter is moderate and peaceful, Muslim and contemporary. He wants to live in this age but wants to live with dignity and as a Muslim in this life," Ghannouchi told a campaign rally.

The party has said little about what policies it will implement to promote its Islamist agenda. That has prompted accusations from secularists -- denied by Ghannouchi -- that he is concealing his real intentions.

Western diplomats say Ghannouchi is a genuine moderate, but they express caution about some of the people in his party. They include many former prisoners, who may try to pull the party towards more radical positions.

Progressive Democratic Party (PDP)- The highest-profile of a cluster of parties which are presenting themselves as a secular alternative to Ennahda. It was founded in 1983 by Najib Chebbi, a lawyer with centre-left political convictions.

While many other opposition figures went into exile during Ben Ali's rule, Chebbi stayed. He was harassed by security forces for years, lambasted in the pro-government media and hampered by rigged elections.

He applied to run in the 2009 presidential election but was ruled ineligible under a law Ben Ali had adopted to keep him out of the race.

Chebbi was named minister of regional development in the first caretaker government after Ben Ali's fall. He left when mass protests brought down that government.

Some commentators say Chebbi has his sights set on the post of Tunisian president once new elections are scheduled. His party has campaigned by tapping into fears that Ennahda will undermine Tunisia's secular traditions.

"We are sure Tunisians will vote for moderation, not for extremism," PDP secretary general Maya Jribi said at a rally. "Tunisia needs to protect the torch of moderation."

Chebbi has been trying to broker an alliance with other secular parties to prevent Ennahda from assembling a majority in the assembly. But the potential partners want to keep their options open until after the vote.

Ettakatol- A socialist party created in 1994 by Mustafa Ben Jaafar, a doctor. Like Chebbi, he was one of the handful of Ben Ali opponents to stay in Tunisia. His party was given legal status in 2002, but it faced government obstruction and a blackout in the tightly-controlled media.

He served as health minister in the first caretaker government after Ben Ali fled. He won widespread respect when he quit, saying he objected to the presence of ministers who had been part of the old administration.

If Ennahda seeks, after the election, to build a "grand coalition" including big secular parties, Ben Jaafar's party is likely to be a potential partner.

Ettajdid- Ahmed Ibrahim is head of the Ettajdid, or Renewal, movement, which evolved out of the Tunisian Communist Party. Hindered by obstruction from Ben Ali's administration, it won only three seats in the last parliamentary elections.

Ibrahim, a former university professor, was minister of higher education in the short-lived cabinet set up after the revolution.

In an interview, he told Reuters Tunisia's liberal, modern values were under threat from an Islamist camp which "wants to use the religious feelings of the people and seeks to impose control and a specific lifestyle."

But he said his party was prepared to cooperate with Ennahda in the assembly. "Democracy means co-existence with everyone, without exception, including Ennahda," he said.

Congress For The Republic- This organisation is led by Moncef Marzouki, a secularist, left-wing doctor. The congress was founded in 2001 and banned soon after. Its leaders went into exile in France.

Marzouki returned three years before the revolution but left again about two months later, saying he could not operate because of harassment by the authorities.

During that period, hundreds of plain clothes police officers surrounded his home and office around the clock and followed him to meetings.

Days after Ben Ali fled, Marzouki flew home from Paris and was greeting at Tunis-Carthage airport by cheering and singing followers. He draws his standing from his principled opposition to Ben Ali over many years.

The congress is seen as another potential coalition partner for Ennahda. Marzouki has said that if people do not vote for his congress they should either vote for Ennahda or the Tunisian Communist Workers' Party. 

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